After about a decade, we have a new ‘Star Wars’ episode. The story is really about the search for Luke Skywalker, a goal that does not seem particularly inspiring. As always in a ‘Star Wars’ film, the visuals are impressive but the narrative is not as compelling as was the story of Darth Vader. The only new character of some interest is a woman named Rey, the new film’s equivalent of Luke Skywalker. There seems to be more material borrowed from the first six films than there is that is new. But as long as the viewer does not need to contend with Jar-Jar Binks or a pod race, any ‘Star Wars’ film delivers more than a ticket’s worth of entertainment.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
Warning: Minor Spoilers
The release of the new ‘Star Wars’ film has become one of the major cinematic events of the year. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is not the most artistic film it could have been and it does not have the most moving story. It is neither good science nor good Science Fiction but it is highly watchable and it will make a lot of money as an international film with avid (not to say rabid) fans around the world.
It has been about thirty (Earth?) years since the action in ‘Return Of The Jedi’ and Luke Skywalker, who disappeared years ago, is slipping from war hero into legend. Meanwhile, the Galactic Empire is falling into the hands of a Fascist military/political party called the First Order. To maintain their power, they have to capture Skywalker, but nobody seems to know where he is. There is a map to his whereabouts but, as so often happens in fiction, the map is in pieces and whoever collects the pieces will have a full map. Great pilot Poe (played by the same Oscar Isaac who was in ‘Ex Machina’) has instructions to find a missing piece. This piece is hidden in a droid, of all places. (Now why does that sound so familiar?) Poe is captured by the First Order storm troopers where he meets a trooper whom the dubs Finn (played by John Boyega). Finn wants to change sides to be on the side of the good guys. Poe and Finn are separated and Finn joins up with Rey (Daisy Ridley) a very highly talented scavenger.
JJ Abrams directs a screenplay by himself, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, who are obviously fans of the series. They borrow ideas freely from the original. For example, the super-weapon the villains have is a Deathstar just as in chapters 4 and 6. But it is not an old fashioned Deathstar, this Deathstar is much bigger! So now three of the seven chapters have new Deathstars needing to be disarmed seconds from disaster. Despite the writers’ efforts to tie this film to the previous six ‘Star Wars’ chapters that were made earlier, this does not really feel like the Star Wars Universe, but one somehow it is reduced in scale.
We have the five main characters from chapters four through six written into the script but they do little to advance the plot. One is a father who gets no opportunity to be fatherly and another is a MacGuffin. Princess Leia looks like her face was replaced by that same doctor who replaced Luke’s hand.
The villain of the piece is a sort of self-styled Darth Vader, down to wearing a similar suit. What makes that strange is that Darth Vader put on the suit as a sort of portable, wearable iron lung. There is no reason to have such a suit if our villain has healthy lungs but perhaps he thinks a suit is imposing. As far as acting Daisy Ridley, playing Rey, is a more dynamic female lead than Carrie Fisher was in 1977, perhaps because Rey is a better-written character.
If you go to ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ looking for something to criticise, you will find more than enough in this ‘Star Wars’ chapter. If you want to find stuff to enjoy, there is plenty of that here, too. Overall, I would rate the new ‘Star Wars’ film a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Since this movie has done so spectacularly well in box-office business and since ‘Star Wars’ is a story told in trilogies, I think we can be assured that more to this story is coming from Disney.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2016