Star Wars: The Force Awakens-A Fan’s Reaction

 

Nostalgic I am, yes.

Nostalgic I am, yes.

I love Star Wars.

My first experience was viewing the reissued special editions (you know, the Han didn’t shoot first kerfuffle) in theaters with my dad.  I became obsessed.  I cried for weeks when Han Solo was frozen in carbonite.  This was before the explosion of the internet and none of my friends cared so I was spoiler free until Jedi came into town a month later.  I started collecting figures and taking them out of the box to arrange scenes on my shelf.  It was one of the main things that brought my husband and I together.  I borrowed his character encyclopedia and left a note by Princes Leia’s profile.  I won us a limo ride to the premier of Episode 1 after entering an essay contest with our local paper.   (Talk about a perfect date.)

So when I say I was disappointed with Episode VII, you’ll know I’m not a hater and not just some casual critic.

I’m a writer.  Part of what has always drawn me to Star Wars is the story.  Steeped in mythic themes and the quintessential modern prototype of the hero’s journey, Lucas’s original space fantasy captivated my literary sensibilities.  It was also a perfect blend of humor, action, and romance.  I remember reading articles before the release of The Force Awakens talking about how director J.J. Abrams tossed around story ideas on long walks and thought “cool, that’s what I’d like to see.”  It made me nervous, but I figured I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.  Unfortunately, that haphazard approach to storytelling shows in The Force Awakens.  The film is visually engaging, but it doesn’t hold up when you think about it from a storytelling perspective.

I agree with the general complaint of too much borrowed from A New Hope.  The movie became one long nostalgia trip with hyped up special effects.  But what bothered me the most was the lack of subtle and nuanced storytelling.  I didn’t feel invested in the characters and their conflicts because I wasn’t given a reason to care.  Who was the new hero Poe Dameron talking to by the fire when he put the plans into BB-8?  Who left this kid on a desert planet to collect scrap?  I had no idea what the Resistance was about and why the First Order was even around.  The last I saw a regime had toppled and the heart of the empire was destroyed.  If it all went to pot, fine.  I buy that.  But at least throw me a dialog bone as to why the galaxy is still in chaos.  Scrolling credits aren’t enough to justify an entire plot without any other questions answered.

The movie seemed to pitch forward at light speed, giving no ground to back story or character development.  The new Death Star, um, I mean Starkiller Base destroyed the Republic.  I’m sorry, what?  That’s about as much time as the film devoted to it.  But what does that even mean?  Was it a planet?  A system of planets?  Coruscant?   We reeled to the climactic death scene of ____ so fast that I couldn’t even react.  Normally I would have choked on popcorn wetted with tears.  Or maybe it was because I had seen the same thing happen before and the foreshadowing was so tangible, I could have hit it with a stick.

If Abrams wanted to go dark, maybe he could have waited until a bit later in the storytelling so that I was invested in the plot.  He took away Star Wars’ adventurous spark when he massacred a village thirty seconds into the movie and started to lose me from that point on.  If we’re going to borrow so much from Episode IV, then why not the homey scene of blue milk and Beru’s cooking?  Instead I got a slave girl overworked, underfed, and alone.  Yes, the Stormtroopers never hitting a mark got a bit old, but now they create carnage like a first person shooter video game.  Let’s face it, the film was a downer from beginning to end.  The lighthearted moments are gone.  It’s just one fire fight after another from a group of people with bleak lives.

One saving grace for the film was the addition of the new trio.  Poe, Finn, and Rey make for powerful and interesting characters if we just go by their words and actions.  Back story aside, Rey presents an intriguing raw force wielder.  Poe is just a cocksure as Han Solo but has no mercenary tendencies–he’s firmly committed to the Resistance.  Finn is all heart with a loveable lack of confidence but a strong conscience.  It’s clear this is where the film started and what anchors an otherwise piecemeal ship.  And the new baddies: very engaging and complex.  Maybe this is where the trouble started-grafting these new lives into an established galaxy where the previous head honchos still need their screen time.  Don’t throw tomatoes, but maybe it would have been better if the Princess and her scruffy nerf-herder hadn’t even shown up until later films.  On the other hand, we were given that outcome with another character and some clamor that was the awful part.  I didn’t mind that so much.

In some ways, J.J. Abrams could never win, and in most ways, he already has.  Ticket sales annihilated  records.  Merchandising is a machine that could rival a terminator.  I’m sure most people love the violence and dark storytelling-it’s what our modern culture demands, right?  Me, I’ll just have to look back to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away to find my escapist adventure and symbolic new hope.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. hymnia
    Jan 01, 2016 @ 18:13:08

    I agree it was flawed, especially in the lack of depth to the larger conflict that is going on around the characters. But the new characters were so engaging that, for me, the flaws were minimized and I enjoyed the movie overall.

    Reply

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