Approximately thirty years after the destruction of the second Death Star, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has disappeared. The First Order has risen from the remains of the fallen Galactic Empire and seeks to eliminate Luke and the Republic. The Resistance, led by Luke’s sister, Leia Organa, opposes them while searching for Luke to enlist his aid. Resistance pilot Poe Dameron goes on the planet Jakku to obtain a map to Luke’s location, but Stormtroopers under the command of Kylo Ren destroy the village and capture Poe. Poe’s droid BB-8 escapes with the map, and comes across a scavenger, Rey. Ren tortures Poe and learns of BB-8, but Stormtrooper FN-2187, unable to kill for the First Order, frees Poe, who dubs him “Finn”, and they escape, but crash on Jakku, and Finn appears to be the only survivor. He encounters Rey and BB-8, but the First Order tracks them down. The three flee the planet in a stolen, rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon, which is soon captured by a much larger ship, piloted by a certain Han Solo and Chewbacca….
I had a bad feeling about this right from the offset….
When I asked Ross Hughes, writer of HCF’s main review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, if he minded me doing an alternative review of the film, he wasn’t at all surprised that I felt differently about the movie to him. In fact, it seems that I feel differently about it to the majority of people, though go onto the IMDB and you’ll find that there are quite a few of us, a ragbag of rebels fighting against The Empire that says that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a total triumph and delivers what Star Wars fans want. Well, if all they want is a mash-up of bits and pieces from the first three films, then all I can say is that they’re a pretty easily pleased bunch. Of course, there is the issue of the prequels, which were so flawed and misconceived that any new Star Wars film which gets away from the style and tone of those films and is closer to the original trilogy must seem like a godsend. However, while I did enjoy this new film here and there, though far more in its first half than its second, there were many times where quite frankly I felt like I’d been cheated and J.J. was just having a laugh. Six months to write the script and all he comes up with is a series of either copies of or variations on things in Star Wars [sorry, I don’t do this A New Hope malarkey], The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, while showing lots of signs of carelessness and even at times just plain stupidity elsewhere.
Again, this isn’t to say that The Force Awakens is an especially poor film. There are some things it gets very right, such as the tone, and there were moments here and there that did recapture the magic of the original trilogy. Taken on its own, it’s an entertaining movie. However, while it does better the prequels [not difficult], I don’t feel it comes anywhere near the original trilogy in quality, and this isn’t helped by constantly imitating and referencing those films which compels one to make comparisons, while being disappointingly unimaginative and even restrained elsewhere. Abrams plays it so safe that his film struggles to find a reason to exist and certainly doesn’t seem to have much point to it. Just rehashing so much and sometimes even putting in “nudge nudge wink wink” bits means that it fails to come across like a legitimate continuation of the story [someone the other day said that I like most of the James Bond films and they’re often rehashes, but very few of them really follow on from each other – you could watch most of them in a different order and it wouldn’t make any difference] but then one of my problems with the whole concept of the film is that I don’t really feel that it’s a story that should have been continued in the first place, and if it was going to be, then they should have at least tried a bit to go in a different direction rather than, for example, cheapen the supposed big victory at the end of Return Of The Jedi and negate the sacrifices of the rebels made in that film as much as Alien 3 negates the sacrifices of Hicks and Ripley in Aliens. Even the background makes little sense. It would take centuries, rather than decades, to engineer a planet on such a massive scale as this First Order managed, and how come rumours never leaked about what was happening there? But then, Abrams doesn’t care about thinking things through properly as long as he can give us, for example, a new Cantina Bar scene.
Nothing really makes any sense. How can a person with absolutely no training whatsoever be so good at wielding a lightsaber and other aspects of the Force? How stupid is it to make a super doomsday weapon that runs out of ammunition after just two shots? How were Rey and Han Solo able to understand BB-8? At least in the other films they needed some sort of translator to understand R2-D2, which actually makes sense. Perhaps one shouldn’t try to pick too many holes in a film of this nature, but then it wasn’t doing its job properly if I kept noticing its issues. Something that jumped out for me was when Kylo Ren say’s Finn’s stormtrooper serial. How the hell would Ren know and/or remember that? It would have been perfectly fine for him to muse: “The stormtrooper from the village”. But then the dialogue is really rather awkward in places; for example, should lines like: “Do you have a boyfriend”? really be used in Star Wars? And for God’s sake, did we have to have yet another strong female heroine beating up the hero? It’s just so tiresome with its reverse sexism, though of course the later is everywhere.
As mentioned before, tonally the film is mostly spot on, the level of humour certainly being about right and often causing me to chuckle, though I felt that some of the scenes involving the villains would have veered close to being a bit grim for Star Wars if it wasn’t for the ridiculous cry baby bad guy who had temper tantrums when things didn’t go his way. I don’t know about you, but I expected better from a main villain in a Star Wars movie after the greatness that was Vader. He didn’t have to be as good a villain as Vader, but he could’ve been much better than what we got, and as for that badly rendered CGI Lord Snoke the less said the better. At least Finn and Rey are decent new characters, BB-8 was genuinely lovable with an extremely simple design that worked wonders, and having some of the old guard back worked out better than it ought to have done, Han and Leia’s reunion almost bringing a tear to my eye, though it underlies a basic problem I had with the very idea of bringing back Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa; it ruins much of the beauty and magic of the first three films, which I consider less science fiction than a fairy tale. Who the hell wants to read a book or see a film or even imagine, say, Cinderella as an old person? I wanted to remember Luke, Han and Leia, and then always revisit them, as they were, rather than they were several decades later, or as the people playing them are now. That spell is now broken. Though I don’t often agree with him, Joss Whedon was right when he said any sequel should not feature any of the original characters.
I will say that the Big Reveal half way through did take me by surprise [I deliberately read very little stuff about the film and hardly any reviews until I’d seen it], but the climactic confrontation between father and son had hardly any power or emotion to it because it takes place in a setting almost exactly like the Big Reveal near the end of The Empire Strikes Back, and therefore, like so much of the film, feels like déjà vu. Directorially Abrams does quite a masterly job, giving us some great long pans which help provide a real feel of some of the environments, and refusing to go in for that excessively fast editing [and no darn lens flare too, hurray!] which he usually uses for the many action scenes , though none of the chases, fights, space battles etc. really stand out, something which can also be said for the visuals, though it is fantastic that so much was done with good old practical effects, especially when so much of the CGI is of dubious quality [how could they?], but there’s little that is really of note. Say what you want about the prequels, and I’ve certainly said a lot, and not much of it nice, but at least in those films Lucas tried to give us lots of interesting visuals [and, dare I say it, ideas], even if he usually failed. Abrams doesn’t even bother, while in some other respects he equals the clumsiness of Lucas. In the original trilogy there was always the overlap between The Empire and 1930s Germany, but they managed to navigate it with a level of dignity. This time they hold a Nuremberg rally.
The performances are fine all round [Ford and Boyega especially], and The Force Awakens is never truly dreadful [how could it be?], which I feel my rating reflects, but things have really gone a bit wrong when even John Williams’ score is forgettable, with no new memorable themes or set pieces, though perhaps you can partially put that down to the great composer’s age , or maybe he was being ‘leant on’ not to provide much thematic stuff in the manner of a lot of modern scores. There are a lot of ‘maybes’ concerning this film, and it’s frustrating that it does do a good job on some things, showing hints of the movie that could have been, but those hints weren’t strong enough for me to get rid of the idea that it just didn’t need to be, and shouldn’t have been, made. While it certainly serves as a fine introduction to kids to this universe, I feel that it’s a bit of an insult to Star Wars fans quite frankly, and I’m totally baffled by the ecstatic response from so many, but then again The Phantom Menace only really begun to seem to get widely disliked after a week or so, once the dust had cleared, and, though it’ll take far longer for The Force Awakens to be seen for the often lazy, stupid, soulless and cynical piece of movie making that it is, there is hope that it eventually will be.
For the time being, there are still only three Star Wars films truly worthy of the name.
Read Ross Hughes’s original review of the film here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2015/12/star-wars-the-force-awakens-the-hughes-verdict-spoiler-free/