Star Wars: The Force Awakens stays true to the mythos of the series, gives a new band of misfits to follow, and while it’s convenient, it doesn’t sacrifice character for spectacle.
I realize that I’m speaking in defence of a franchise that doesn’t need it, but I’ve heard nothing but nit picky chatter over Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so I’d like to spend this review countering the small grievances with the film. As you can imagine, from here on out I get into heavy spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film, go do that and come back. I can wait.
Ah, your back, fantastic.
Yes, I know. The Force Awakens is a new, New Hope. The plot treads familiar ground: A droid has a map to Luke Skywalker and is escorted, one charater at a time, back to Leia. I’m okay with that—so long as Episode VIII isn’t a complete rehash of Empire Strikes Back. They needed to introduce the villain, Kylo Ren, and they needed to set off the hero, Rey, on her journey. Also, we as an audience needed a welcome matt back to the aesthetics of the late 70’s star wars universe: The plush seats, the orange jumpers, leather bomber jackets, and the general WWII-in-space feel of the originals.
The most common, and also well founded qualm with the plot, is that Han and Leia raised a petulant, Vader loving, little shit. But there’s a good reason for their becoming the villain. The original Star Wars series dealt with the metaphor of the Sins of the Father as well; Luke rejected the path his father took, choosing light over dark, and ultimately superseding his father’s base character. In the same way, Ren rejects his father’s lifestyle of smuggling and chooses to rage with the machine, instead of against it.
This rejection of the Self wears on him, and makes him the most interesting character in The Force Awakens. He tries so hard to maintain a certain image of himself, and remain in control, that he’s prone to manic outbursts. He finds solace in his idolization of Vader, wearing a helmet fashioned after him. Though unlike Vader, who couldn’t live without the mask, Ren chooses to take on machine-like aspects in order to mask his insecurities.
He chooses to hide away all that makes him human, which is why it makes sense that he’d kill Han Solo. Because, in his twisted state, he’s not just killing his father, he’s severing the last tether he has to his humanity and light. And, I appreciate that Harrison Ford wasn’t merely written out. There’s a purpose to his death; it garners pathos for an old smuggler who ironically stood against his call to noble action right up until the last moment. Plus, they had to fire up the audience to get them ready for the final showdown.
The fight itself went back to basics—no flips and shit. It felt raw because their fighting styles matched their personalities: Ren added unnecessary flare to his movement, Finn hacked away in clumsy fashion with honest intent, and Rey was keen enough to use her environment to her advantage, fighting defensively. Even the style of the sabers suited the characters. Ren’s lightsaber is frenzied and flashy, like that of a crusader, while Rey’s or Finn’s—really Luke’s—is crisp and pure. And yes, the hilt on Ren’s light saber couldn’t function as a hilt, but like everything else with Ren, it’s style over substance.
I, like many, scoffed when a remarkably convenient earthquake separated the fight between Rey and Ren. But, I’m willing to look past the contrivances so long as there’s a scruffy band of nerf-herders that I can empathize with. Though some might disagree, I never felt that the heart of the narrative was distracted by the contrived elements—as with the most recent Spectre—they merely served to advance the plot.
That said, there was one shiny silver plot device that I can’t overlook: Captain Phasma. She only existed to disable the shields on Death Star 3.0. The only sarcastic defence I can give to her is that she’s fucking Kylo Ren—that’s right, she’s useless, knows to much, and holds too high of a rank, but no one is willing to say anything for fear of one of Ren’s tantrums.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a perfect film, and it wears the crown when it comes to convenience. But did you seriously expect anything more? This is Star Wars, it’s a soap opera in space. And as far as that goes, it delivers the goods. But again, while I can look past the similarities to A New Hope, and recommend this film. I do so in the hopes that this is just a familiar step in truly inventive and exciting journey. I look forward to Luke guiding Rey, but if she treads the same ground as him, then the next film will only award it’s audience with the gentle sadness of nostalgia.