Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

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**SPOILER FREE PORTION**

As I walked into Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I resolved to throw popcorn at the screen if:

  1. There was no famous word “crawl” at the beginning.
  2. Chewbacca died.
  3. Either Jar-Jar Binks, “Force Ghost” Anakin, or an Ewok appeared.

Beyond that, my expectations were low, but as John Williams’ timeless chords poured over the starlit screen, I smiled, looked at my son, Caleb, and felt good. It was, unmistakably, Star Wars. Nostalgia, like the Force, flows in and through this film and binds it together. For many, that fleeting filament is sufficient to float happily through the two-hour blend of old and new faces. For me, it was not. The Force Awakens is interesting and entertaining, but only in the sense that Seinfeld reruns still make me laugh. This film is as much a remake as a sequel.

The story opens by introducing and blending together the new characters. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are mostly strong and well-acted, even if they are Star Wars staples. Rey is a struggling “orphan” on a remote world who is afraid to dream of bigger things. Poe is a hot-shot pilot with a sharp tongue, and Kylo is a force-blessed young adult choosing, it seems, the darker path of the force. Finn, in a way, is the only “new” character. He is a Stormtrooper with a conscience, quietly challenging immoral orders in the name of the First Order, a new power that has cobbled together the remnants of the Empire.

Old faces also make appearances, with one of them earning top billing. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) becomes, surprisingly, the hinge of the story, which I did not expect. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has limited screen time in her new role as General Organa, a leader in the Resistance to the First Order. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is Han’s aging wing-wookie. To say anything of Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) appearance would spoil a major plot point, but his character is pivotal to the story.

On balance, the younger actors are sharper and stronger. Daisy Ridley’s Rey may be the best fusion of character and actor. She seems destined to grow into the franchise’s spine, which will work if the team around Star Wars can rediscover some plot creativity.

Abrams, in spite of a dimming spark, knows how to move, and not move, a camera. The action scenes are well-crafted and the flying sequences are the best in the history of the series. Style abounds and some of the compositions are striking. To see tie fighters race on a pumpkin-hued solar backdrop is to know this genre can be beautifully captured.

***SPOILERS AHEAD***

The plot disappoints most and nearly robs the film of any credibility. Does this sound familiar? A down on his/her luck, desert-planet dweller gets swooped into a conspiracy in the form of a droid carrying secret electronic data that is vital to the Resistance/Rebellion, so the droid must be delivered in spite of great, space-based peril. In the interim, the Empire/First Order has built a super weapon (Death Star/Starkiller) that threatens entire planets/systems with unknown destructive power. Fortunately, a weakness has been found, but it can only be exploited if a small group can shut down the shields, thereby allowing the “against all odds” attack by a small fleet of gutsy, outnumbered pilots. Oh, also, there is a father/son struggle of identity, and someone might be turned to the dark/light side.

Star Wars was fresh. Empire Strikes Back was ominous. Return of the Jedi was largely derivative of Star Wars and was plagued by Ewoks. The Force Awakens essentially steals the same plot, and only varies by climate, location, and personality. It seems the galaxy, from a long time ago, and in a place far, far away, has but one plot, destined to be repeated again and again, like karma with marketing and merchandising attached.

J.J. Abrams was chosen, for some reason, to helm the seventh film in the iconic series, and with that selection, the game was up, the hand was tipped, and the future was set. Abrams was given a blank canvas that was already framed, a well-known palette, and finely hewn brushes. An artist can use familiar elements to produce a masterpiece, but here Abrams instead chooses to paint by numbers, to follow the path of the past, pausing only long enough to add an occasional flourish of excess. J.J. Abrams played it safe. Instead of awakening the force, I wish Abrams, and our entertainment overlords, Walt Disney, had resurrected creativity and originality.

The most frustrating part of this, at least for me, is that the pieces are present for a spectacular film. The directing and cinematography are stellar, the acting is more than solid, and the new characters are a breath of fresh air. But to take these strengths, and strain them through a repetitive plot like this one is simply a failure of imagination. Abrams and Co. could have achieved all of their objectives–new characters, new villain, new family dynamic, new conflict–while still creating a new storyline. Just so we are clear, there are ways to generate dramatic tension and action while not utilizing an intergalactic space station of varying sizes and power.

Yes, one other thing. It seems the tech in Star Wars is pretty top-notch. You know, light-sabers, blasters, light speed travel, shields, and all of that stuff. In spite of this, there seems to be no ability to either copy or send electronic information in any way other than by physically storing it in a droid or on a physical chip. There is nothing like an email or a cloud system where a file named “Map to Luke” might be uploaded, downloaded, linked to, or just put into multiple flash drives. Nope, that stuff does not happen in Star Wars. After all, if it did, the plot gets meaningless pretty fast, right?

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is fun, but it lacks, severely, originality and imagination, two ingredients that should be mandatory for this universe.

Grade: 1/3 Eggheads

21 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

  1. Hmm? Some dissent and corrections required here.

    “There is nothing like an email or a cloud system where a file named “Map to Luke” might be uploaded, downloaded, linked to, or just put into multiple flash drives. Nope, that stuff does not happen in Star Wars. After all, if it did, the plot gets meaningless pretty fast, right?”

    Well, yes, there is. Its called the Holonet. And if you will remember, in the original Star Wars, Darth Vader, when confronting Leia, referred to transmissions being beamed to the ship. That tech most certainly exists in Star Wars and is often used. But I should think the answer to why this is not used for Luke’s map is pretty straightforward. Risk of interception. Sorry, but using droids to transfer highly classified information rather than putting it out where anyone can potentially discover or intercept (including the First Order, who you know is also after it) is hardly a plot hole.

    As for plot itself, even if it does seem repetitive, lets examine the logic behind it. The First Order’s goal, at least that of General Hux, is to succeed and be stronger where the Empire could not. The so-called weakness of Starkiller Base is far from the same as the Death Star and is more of a weakness contrived by Resistance strategy than an actual flaw design in the weapon. In fact, without the one-of-a-kind piloting skills of Han Solo pulling off an all-but-impossible suborbital exit from hyperspace inside Starkiller’s shield, the base was impregnable. And even after the shield was brought down (only after forcing Captain Phasma at blaster point to use her codes to do it), the X-Wing assault was insufficient without sabotage from the inside to cripple the base. General Hux appears to be the only “villain” truly motivated by political consideration, being the destruction of the New Republic Senate and its military and resurrection of Imperial hegemony over the galaxy.

    We, actually, do not yet know the ultimate goals of Supreme Leader Snoke, nor his origins, in any meaningful comparative way as we knew about Emperor Palpatine, where he came from, and what he wanted. Han Solo, when confronting his son, hints at this when he says that when Snoke has used Ben for his power, he will crush him. Make no mistake, Snoke is not your typical dark side wielder. As the story continues, while it will likely remain thematically similar, as all Star Wars stories, movie or novel or comic, ultimately are, Episodes VIII and IX, I expect, are going to increasingly be radically different in terms of story and plot.

    Certain elements of the plot also mirror, more than they do A New Hope, the highly rated RPG game Knights of the Old Republic. Just put a picture of masked Kylo Ren beside one of Darth Revan and the visual basis for Ren’s appearance becomes clear. Also, KOTOR’s main plot features a quest to recover fragments of a star map to find a specific location. Sound familiar?

    Also, the general state of the galaxy at the beginning of the film loosely mirrors the situation at the beginning of the story arcs in the MMO game The Old Republic.

    Conclusion: Star Wars: The Force Awakens does, in broad strokes, invoke similar plot points to A New Hope. However, this film was a delight, and the more one actually dissects it, the more they will find that despite its similarities to the original, there is far more going on here than a remake.

    Trivia Note:
    The city planet serving as the capitol of the New Republic which is destroyed by the Starkiller in the film is called Hosnian Prime, not Coruscant. If you listen carefully, the name of the system is mentioned in the film. There has been numerous people confused by this because the briefly seen cityscape is very similar to Coruscant’s in architectural design. The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary clarifies this and informs us that the New Republic has adopted a novel concept. Its capital periodically rotates among member worlds with each location decided by periodic elections. The rationale for this is to reduce political corruption by not allowing any one place to become a permanent concentration of government power. As this is a political blog, I thought that was an interesting bit of Star Wars political trivia to note.

    Imagine what it would be like if the United States adopted such a process in which the federal government periodically rotated its location around the nation?

  2. So, Nathan, there is no cryptology in this universe? No digital scrambling? No way to send a message securely? We can go through space at light speed but not send a secure cable? You can defend it all you like, it seems absurd given the other technology. Not to mention, we have seen it all before, nearly identically.

    Also, you can defend the plot, but it is still such a copy that it is monotonous. We have seen this plot 3 times in Star Wars films. Are there some differences? Yes. There are, but those differences cannot mask the inherent similarity. Big, bad object. Small band of misfits. Stealth tactics. Small fighter groups. Blah, Blah, Blah. We had everything here but Rogue 5 or “Stay on Target.” It was just a rehash with minor flourishes to distinguish. I don’t care if it was an exhaust vent, a thermal oscillator, or any other made up sci-fi element, they are just renaming something that does not exist to contrive a circumstance that still is virtually identical to what we have seen before. The differences pale in comparison to the similarities. (Also, coming out of light speed on a planet’s surface seems suicidal and impossible to survive given the basic physics at work, but Star Wars has never been interested in anything resembling scientific reality, not that it should, necessarily.)

    For someone so dedicated to the franchise, I am surprised you like the film that much. This is almost like Star Trek: Into Darkness as a thorough rehash of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. What do these have in common? J.J. Abrams parasitically lifting strong plot points, reconfiguring some smallish details, updating the graphics, and calling it a day. There is nothing interesting, innovative, or original about it. Just the clink of the cash register. While I don’t care enough to get worked up about it, doesn’t Star Wars deserve better than this? George Lucas is rolling over in his creative grave, in which he was virtually entombed after Empire Strikes Back.

    1. Of course there is cryptology in the Star Wars universe. Doesn’t change anything. Luke purposefully hid himself so well that even Leia could not find him. The whole idea behind his disappearance was that he does not want to be found. Just look at his face when Rey finds him. He clearly is not enthused someone has found him. He purposefully wanted it to be hard for someone to learn his location. Arguing the cryptology or secure cable element is like saying that it is okay for the national nuclear launch codes in the nuclear football to be digitized since “oh, we can encrypt the data, the Chinese or the Russians won’t get it if we take these precautions”. Of course, maybe they have already. Wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe they should have used Hillary Clinton’s server to transfer it.

      I am sorry if I seem a bit crass on this point, but in the large scheme of things, the lack of using other means to transfer classified data between parties is hardly relevant to the quality of the film.

      “For someone so dedicated to the franchise, I am surprised you like the film that much. This is almost like Star Trek: Into Darkness as a thorough rehash of Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan”

      Well, Into Darkness also borrowed heavily from Undiscovered Country as well. Sure, elements are the same, but like colors, if A New Hope represents blue, and Knights of the Old Republic represents red, and you use a red crayon and a blue crayon, the end result is purple. You know that both blue and red are there, but the actual result is not totally the same as either. This was The Force Awakens.

      But if there is one key difference between this movie and the others, it is that rather than a true victory, the Resistance came out of this film WORSE off, at least in the short term, than did the First Order. None of the major First Order characters died (it has been confirmed that they all got out) and while they lost their super weapon, their starfleet is still intact (only one Star Destroyer is seen in the film, but other canon sources make it clear that the First Order has much more out there). while the Resistance lost Han Solo and can expect little or no immediate help from a now crippled New Republic.

      If the film has one drawback, it is this. The prequels were much maligned because of the heavily political content that I think they over corrected that element for the Force Awakens. I have seen numerous reviews that said people actually would HAVE LIKED a little extra geopolitical context. Non-movie sources provide this background information and when properly understood, it does give the film a different undertone.

      The summary is this. Roughly a year after the Battle of Endor, the New Republic and the Empire fought the battle of Jakku (resulting in the numerous wrecks seen in the film). After the battle, the remnants of the Empire surrendered, signing the Galactic Concordance. The New Republic permitted the Empire to continue existing within the territory it held at the time of the treaty. At some point, the First Order emerges as the new face of the Empire and the New Republic officially ignores it so long as it abides by the treaty. Leia (who takes on a Churchill-like role) forms the Resistance to fight the First Order after her warnings to the new Republic (like Churchill’s warnings about Hitler) are unheeded by the New Republic Senate.

      The result is a Cold War between the Republic and the First Order as sympathetic Republic officials siphon resources to the Resistance, resulting in a proxy war of sorts. The First Order knows this and thus targets the Republic with Starkiller in retaliation.

      Does anyone detect the clear WW2 themes at play here? If anything, The Force Awakens draws from the World Wars far more for its context, at least politically, than A New Hope.

      Thus, unlike A New Hope, the political context is far different. When properly understood, while the thematic elements, as I admitted, are still the same, the differences DO make the Force Awakens its own story.

      As far as Kylo Ren is concerned, they are clearly taking him down a path modeled on what Luke’s would have been had he chosen to kill Vader in Return of the Jedi. Unlike Luke, who refused to kill his father, or even Vader, who refused to stand by and let his son be killed, Kylo Ren has actually taken that step, making his character arc unique going forward.

      The Starkiller base plot IS NOT the main plot of the film, unlike A New Hope where the Death Star WAS the plot. Rather it is Solo/Skywalker family bloodline and its legacy that is the true plot of the film, and in this area, the plot is certainly going places that will be different.

      1. Just to clarify the differences between the Death Star and Starkiller.

        One uses kyber crystals to focus an energy beam and the other draws the energy of a star to create, in essence, a condensed plasma solar flare.

        One was created as a tool of enforcement for a government that already had hegemony over the galaxy, the other was created as a WMD First Strike weapon.

        The purpose for which the weapon was used to destroy a planet or star system was, or one, simply a display of its power, on the other, to accomplish a geopolitical objective.

        One was a completely artificial construct, the other was built into a planet.

        One was destroyed because of an overlooked design flaw found in a stolen set of the station’s blueprints, the other was destroyed by tactically creating a weakness via strategy.

        The similarities are that they are both spherical and the final battle is being fought to knock it out before it can destroy the opposition’s main base of operations.

        Enough differences between the two, from type of weapon to the purpose for which it was used, exist that, despite thematic similarities, they really are not the same.

    2. Dr. Smith, cryptography does exist in the star wars world. But if you look at the general trend of technology encrypted messages are getting easier to break over time.

      Compare enigma during world war 2 to our modern encryption techniques, encryption has come a long way, but code cracking has come further. It’s difficult to encrypt something in such a way that a government power today couldn’t crack it in less than a second. With the advanced technology of the star wars universe do you really think the first order couldn’t crack an intercepted transmission?

      By the rest, rhyming with the original trilogy’s plot was on purpose, it might not continue into the third movie though.

  3. Totally agree. Acting was good. The new characters were likable. I was pleasantly surprised how well Harrison Ford jumped back into the role of Han Solo after all these years. But the plot was WEAK!

    1. Yes, Han Solo was Han Solo again. The word “scoundrel” comes to mind. In so many ways, just seeing Han being Han is enough to overlook any perceived plot flaws in the film and his death is so much more emotionally charged that Obi-Wan’s could ever be.

  4. George Lucas actually liked the film; he more likely rolled over in his creative grave just before he gave us the first rehash of Episode IV: Episode I—in which a down-on-his-luck, desert planet-dweller and pilot prodigy gets swooped into the Jedi Order (for somehow more contrived reasons than the deliverance of a droid, namely abnormal bloodwork) and winds up destroying a giant metal space ball, but let’s not forget that first his mentor figure must die at the hands of the film’s main antagonist—which we also see in Episode VII. Indeed, though I would give The Force Awakens higher marks than you have, it was the plot that brought it down for me as well. It seems to me that J.J. Abrams was somewhat stuck, having to make a film overflowing with the elements and feel that make it so unmistakeably the Star Wars we love and are familiar with, while still creating something new with unfamiliar characters and settings so as to give the series new life. I’ve heard it said in a positive context that this film was Episode IV.I; the relative truth of this statement, and therefore lack of originality, is, for me, why it could never reach Episode IV levels of greatness. That said, while it appears he chose to sacrifice plot originality, I think Abrams did a spectacular job of producing a compelling, character-driven (as opposed to plot-driven) film that goes deeper into the inner conflicts and motivations of these new characters than any of its predecessors. It’s fun, it’s unmistakeably Star Wars, the new characters are spectacular, and I suppose one might say it has given me… A New Hope… for the sequels to come.

  5. This whole discussion cracks me up–and I have never seen ANY Star Wars or Star Trek films. I don’t have time for such nonsense.

    Back in the early 80’s, when I was a Cedarville student, we all were told that attending movies in a theater was morally wrong. It had nothing to do with ratings: even G movies were off-limits. Those who got caught going inside a movie theater, even to watch Bambi, were punished. And as an RA I was supposed to enforce that rule, as best as I could.

    We were told that it was WRONG to attend any movie at a theater, since that would be financially supporting an immoral Hollywood film industry. We are to be good stewards of the money that God has given us, and that means being careful where that money was spent.

    It was OK to go to Wittenberg and view an appropriate film there in the student union or to watch appropriate films on TV, but NO THEATERS. And no questions!

    I see much has changed. I guess “Christian morality” is a relative concept after all, and that moral relativism reigns at the ‘Ville. Just don’t put that in the marketing materials!

    Wonder when Cedarville changed its policy and decided that something that was morally wrong in years past was now OK. Wonder when that will happen with other policies that are allegedly based on the Bible.

    1. “This whole discussion cracks me up–and I have never seen ANY Star Wars or Star Trek films. I don’t have time for such nonsense.”

      I guess Trekkies and Star Wars fans can be added to the long list of those who are your intellectual inferiors. Oh well, to each his own.

      Just curious if there are movie franchises you enjoy. Lord of the Rings? Pirates of the Caribbean? The Marvel Cinematic Universe? Something else?

      Maybe if you made some time for some “nonsense” in your life, you wouldn’t be such a wet blanket.

      If you don’t have time for this nonsense, fine. But your comments just demonstrate your continuing need to condescend. You could have chosen to say nothing.

      1. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that it is not an attack on you personally if someone is not a Trekkie.

      2. I remind you that you referred to it as nonsense that you don’t have time for. The implication of that statement seemed pretty clear to me.

        But don’t worry. I can remind myself it was not personal if you remind yourself this is a discussion about a movie and not what Cedarville’s policies on movies may or may not have been 30 years ago.

    2. A final question…

      Dr. Smith has posted numerous movie reviews on this blog. Why now have you chosen to once again display your eternal hatred of Cedarville by using a long discarded movie policy?

      Like I said, you could have chosen to say nothing. Are you that petulant that you have to take every subject, even a movie, and turn it into some anti-Cedarville rant?

      1. Do you not see the problem with using the Bible to come up with a policy condemning a particular behavior and then, as you say, discarding it? Are you that blind?

        Is that what the Bible merely is to you, something to be used when expedient, until it is not? Give me a break.

        How much are they paying you to be Cedarville’s apologist? Considering the moral problems that plague the institution, I hope you are getting overtime!

      2. Jeff, I seriously doubt there is anyone on this blog, faculty, student, or alum, who does not agree that legalism has always been, is, and will continue to be, a serious problem for Christianity.

        But Cedarville’s past policies are about the farthest topic from Star Wars I can imagine yet you have managed, or are at least trying, to turn a lighthearted discussion of a movie into an indictment of 30 year old defunct policies at an educational institution that was never part of the conversation until you forced it in.

        I would like to say I am surprised but unfortunately, based on your usual conduct on this blog, I am not.

        The terms “wet blanket” or “bore” or “killjoy” hardly come close to doing you justice.

  6. Nathan

    Today’s rules that are allegedly based on the eternal Word of God are tomorrow’s legalism.

    You really did not answer my questions. But I won’t take it personally. :-)

    1. Glad to hear it because I am not going to answer it. At least not under a topic discussing a Star Wars movie.

      If you want to discuss Christian legalism, I suggest e-mailing one of the bloggers and asking them. You can do so from the Authors tab at the top of the site. They are not unreasonable men. One of them might be willing to tackle the issue. It is an important one. If one of them does I would be more than happy to participate in a discussion on the topic.

      But not now and not here.

      Merry Christmas, Mr. Adams :)

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