I’m not a big Star Wars fan. I sort of like the movies, but not even that much. I will confess that I may stumble upon A New Hope on TV… and pass. But I went to watch The Force Awakens, like everybody else. These are my 2 cents.
Star Wars cannot be judged in terms of filmmaking. None of the episodes is a particularly good movie. Star Wars outshines other sci-fi sagas in creating a captivating universe, where politics, religion, passions and gadgets are combined in a very effective way to: a) make it a credible world, one where you can suspend your belief for a couple of hours and give into the story, and b) make you want to know more, because every turn in the storyline and every new spacecraft shown is going to be cool, is going to make sense, and is going to enlarge that interesting universe.
Then Episode I was released and ruined all that. Or a big part of it at least, as I can see hints of the same foundations of the original trilogy, all of them compromised for the sake of commercial effectiveness and/or technology usage (oh my god all that CGI!).
So my preconceptions when I entered The Force Awakens were that it was not about the film itself, but how it contributes to the whole Star Wars universe, mainly in terms of new characters. And that JJ Abrahams seemed to be the perfect election, as he seems gets the characters right in most of his films, while being cool at the same time.
After watching it, I do believe the whole point of the film, arguably the only point, is just to introduce new characters. Abrahams is as effective as he always is, creating relatable characters that you care about and enjoy watching, especially during their interactions.
They didn’t work too hard on their definition, though. The main characters all belong to Harry Potter, I’m afraid. Rey is Harry, of course, a naturally gifted, all-mighty, does-NOT-have-to-train hero. Charismatic, energetic and capable of anything. Finn is Ron, loyal friend, I-will-always-stand-by-you type of guy. Fearsome but brave. Funny when needed. And Kylo Ren is Draco Malfoy. He wants to be bad, but is not that skilled. He’s kind of high profile, being the son a well known couple, but cannot withstand the weight of his position. He’s crumbling under the weight of expectations. Finally, I cannot help mentioning the resemblance of that new mysterious boss, Snoke, with Voldemort, disfigured, soft spoken creepy dude.
While not entirely original, I do like the starting point though. I only hope the development of the main trio follows a different route than Harry’s in the next chapter. Honestly, Kylo is the only character that is left at a point with truly great potential, specially if he deviates from Malfoy’s spoiled child cliche. Rey will only be interesting as a hero to the extent she faces a challenge that is several times bigger than her, a challenge that is not at sight at the point where The Force Awakens ends. Actually, at this point it would be more interesting to see Rey turn to the dark side and Kylo to the light, in order to see Kylo work his ass off to fight a naturally super-gifted prodigy by the only means of his determination, his faith and his desperation to find redemption for what he has done. Cool, eh? Well, I guess this is unlikely, but then, please, make Kylo the centre of the trilogy; create a story where we see Kylo grow over his limitations to become a truly dark character, and make him win over everyone else. That is a story I would like to see.
Contribution to the Star Wars Universe
Beyond the new characters, the contribution of the film to the universe of SW is fairly limited. No new cool spacecraft, everything is a reshape of the original trilogy’s work. No new cool gadgets, apart from the widely questioned cross guard light sabre (which I do like, anyway). The team has played the nostalgia card quite heavily, too heavily if we notice the obvious parallelism with Episode IV’s storyline. They took very few risks here, which comes across as too conservative; I hope they let the artist director express more creativity on the next ones. A true winner, though, is BB-8, that steals the show in many shots and is a remarkable creative and engineering feature.
One final element to consider in the scope of SW universe is the whole First Order thing, the bad guys. To start with, I left the film very confused about the political landscape that rules that galaxy. Is the First Order the leftovers of the Empire? Do they have some kind of power or are they some shady terrorist unit willing to regain control? Who are they targeting, indeed?
Two things are clear for me. One, the First Order is too loosely defined to convey the idea that someone has to do something about them. I mean, if you dress those guys in black, put a lot of them in stormtroopers armours, show them associated with Nazi imagery, and unveil that they have a canon-planet… fine, seems like you should do something about them, but honestly you don’t care as much as if you knew better their motivations.
Second, the First Order is a joke from beginning to end. Yes, they have a lot of headcount and a big gun, but honestly their masked guy and their General are trainees! I got a feeling that both the loose definition and the inadequate management are, indeed, a deliberate decision, and not a failed attempt. I’ll assume that they actually want us to consider the First Order a joke because that will be relevant for the evolution of the story in future chapters.
Bottom line, I felt characters were cool, storyline was forgettable (Avatar style), overall creativity was fairly limited, and the good-evil confrontation was fuzzy. Even with somewhat weak elements, it is a movie I enjoyed watching, one that I would recommend watching, and one that I decided to spend 1.000 words in. That’s the magic of captivating universes like Star Wars and the hand of effective creative teams like JJ Abrahams’. I’m ready for more!
Have a nice weekend.