Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

I’ve finally seen it, the new Star Wars, and boy did it deliver – loadsa aliens, giant space ships, cute robots, a female protagonist that isn’t forced to wear a bikini and pastries, a character of colour in a lead role, amazing explosions, lightsabers, an awesome baddy and an average plot. It did what it said on the tin and gave a whole new generation of kids an endless supply line of plastic toys to get at Christmas. So here’s a quick review in which I highlight some of the hits and misses, big spoilers ahead (also for Scream 4).

HIT – Better Than Scream 4: Ok, what does a slasher series from the 90s have to do with a space opera? Well, over a decade after Scream 3 was released we were given another outing of a guy in a ghost mask killing teens. It did what franchise rebooting films should do and had the surviving members of the original films return as well as introduce a whole new cast of preppy, spunky high schoolers all waiting to get killed off one by one. But despite the tagline “new decade, new rules” it actually proved to be pretty old-fashioned, sure there was the odd smartphone and facebook reference but the monochrome and hetero cast just didn’t ring true for the 21st century and it spent far too long paying tribute to the old films that it didn’t do anything new (save for the killer twist at the end, that was ace). The nail in the coffin was killing off the entire new cast and leaving behind the original trio…again. It also wasn’t very scary. Fortunately, Star Wars didn’t make this mistake – whilst it brought back the old cast it also gave us a new, awesome one and even went as far as offing one of the old members. This is a good way to keep old fans but get plenty of new ones. Although Episode 8 could backtrack on all this if it becomes all about Luke Skywalker again (yawn).

MISS – Conflict Needs Tension: I’m often told that all good stories need conflict – a character wants something but then something else blocks their desire, namely an obstacle, and this creates conflict. We then watch as the character tries to overcome the obstacle. Will they find BB-8? Will Finn survive her kidnapping? Will they find BB-8 again? But it’s quite easy to create conflict, as simple as DESIRE + OBSTACLE. However, if we want the audience to be hooked by a conflict we need to feel genuine tension, we need to feel the stakes are high, and that the character really might not get what they want. This is where the final part of Episode 7 got a little dull – the whole Starkiller Base (basically a very big Deathstar) wasn’t very believable in the first place, it’s silly solar powered laser was just silly and the way it could just blow up planets was boring. So, despite the Starkiller Base being a very big obstacle I was never convinced it was an actual threat. Sure there was conflict: DESIRE (Rebels want to survive) + OBSTACLE (Starkiller is going to blow up Rebels), but I’d seen this before in Episode 4 and the ease with which a few Rebel spaceships and well-placed bombs destroyed the whole Starkiller anyway was just a let down. Yeah, it was one giant conflict but it lacked tension, I mean, did we ever think they could fail? And seriously J. J Abrams, why not invent a new plot device rather than rehash all the old ones…desert planet, cute droid carrying secret message, baddy in mask, big spherical laser firing spaceship thing etc.

HIT – Into The Grey Zone: Star Wars is known for it’s really simple plots – Good v. Evil, Light v. Dark, Jedi v. Sith, etc (“kindergarten mythmaking” as a review in the FT put it). It presents two opposing poles and has characters take sides, you’re either a goody-goody or a baddy-baddy. But this time things were a little more nuanced as the film took a look at that place between the poles, namely the ‘grey zone’ – where moral ambiguities abound. Take Finn for starters – he starts out life as your average Stormtrooper – just hopping from planet to planet taking other people’s orders and killing innocent villagers. But when the lasers start firing and the people start dying (including his Stormtrooper mates) it all gets a little much for him. He takes off his mask to reveal a human underneath and then decides to join with the goodies. In Finn’s character the normally faceless Stormtroopers are humanised and we come to realise they’re flawed and fallible, and it isn’t just as simple as Good v. Bad. Next comes Kilo Ren (the best character!) – Leia and Hans’ son who has turned to the Dark Side and got himself a cool, new lightsaber (and a hilarious twitter account). In his character we see a genuine internal struggle between good and bad, we see someone hovering in the middle, with an emotional and unstable core that could tip either way. Unfortunately it tips towards the Dark Side. But this brings me on to my biggest complaint…

MISS: Why Bother Being Bad? I just don’t get why anyone would choose to join the First Order (basically the Empire Mark 2) – firstly, the life of a Stormtrooper looks exceptionally dull especially if they have to wear their helmets all the time. As for Force users, those on the Dark Side end up working for complete psychopaths but unlike bankers they don’t even get fancy apartments in London as compensation. So what’s the point, what’s the appeal, save power, but what’s the point of power if you don’t get to indulge in it? What possible motive could so many people have for just going around destroying everything? Don’t they even want to inhabit the planets they defeat and build elaborate temples, casinos and amusement parks? What do they even eat? We all know that villains are way more interesting than heroes but villains need back stories too and whilst Kilo Ren got one all the others were just cardboard cut-outs. Who the heck are Hux and Snope for starters? Maybe Episode 8 will answer these questions but as for Episode 7, I just didn’t think the baddies had credible motives for all that destruction. Baddies are human/alien after all and it’s always fun to know why they are the way they are.

So, all in all, I’d say it was a Hiss or a Mit…not quite as great as it could have been but still very fun.  The new Star Wars team really must learn the important lesson of Scream 4 – pay homage to the original movies but give us something new as well. In Episode 7 this came in the guise of Rey and Finn, two new and exciting characters, but the plot also needed a reboot, an even bigger Death Star simply will not do. And now for lots of thumb twiddling until 2017…

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4 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

  1. hermesconsulting December 24, 2015 / 1:13 pm

    I think you might mean “pasties” Robert, but the idea of wearing “pastries” is even more intriguing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert December 24, 2015 / 4:00 pm

      “Patties” of the burger variety would be even more interesting!

      Like

  2. Joe December 24, 2015 / 1:33 pm

    Nice review! Though I have an opinion on the “why bother being bad?” part. It was alluded to that Kylo had been manipulated into thinking he was carrying on the work of his grandfather Vader. I bet it’s something they’re saving for the later movies and hopefully won’t end in a revelatory “NOOO! That’s impossible!” a la luke.

    But you were spot on about rehashing the desert/droid/spherical-planet-destroyer. It was painfully obvious that the new superbase would be bested in Trench – flight attacks etc. There was never real fear that anything we cared about would be destroyed – save for Han which was an incredible moment for a star wars fan.

    Must also mention the HIT of the scene that followed finn on the ground and the x wing in the sky while it destroyed loads of tie fighters and ground troops. Very cool bit of direction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert December 24, 2015 / 4:02 pm

      Thanks Joe. And I like that a lot – that Kylo is being manipulated and made to think his grandfather was some sort of important hero worth emulating. I thought Kylo was a very strong character. And yes, death of Han, that was big and a suprise (for me). Bring on number 8!

      Like

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