WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS
“Give the people what they want and they’ll come.” – George Jessel
“I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon
“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” – Johnny Rotten, on the dissolution of the Sex Pistols.
Oh, JJ Abrams, you miserable hack with the strange penile-shaped proboscis! How could you do this? How could you sell the dreams of a generation down the river for filthy lucre and the cheap vagaries of fame? Is your pre-existing fortune and duplicitously-earned reputation not enough to sate your titanic ego? The saddest thing of all is that so many are willingly complicit in your latest scam and don’t even realize they’ve been the victims of a con on a galactic scale. But I digress. Let’s start from the beginning…
The prospect of a sequel to Return of the Jedi has percolated in the minds of Star Wars fans for over thirty years. Lucas’s epic saga was always supposed to contain nine parts (or twelve, depending on who you ask): three trilogies of three, each recounting the adventures of a different generation of heroes. Now, with the release of The Force Awakens, those dreams can finally take material shape. Unfortunately, JJ Abrams has turned those long-cherished fantasies into a living nightmare for any right-thinking fan of the series.
By now, the post-release dust has settled and The Force Awakens has shattered records for the biggest opening weekend of all time. Fanboys everywhere, high on that return to a galaxy far, far away, are raving about the film. Yet never in the history of cinema has there been a more meretricious case of blinkered fan worship than this, for The Force Awakens is an objectively awful movie and doesn’t hold up under the slightest analysis or scrutiny. There have already been reams of discussion about it and, tellingly, even the most gushing reviews acknowledge that the movie is a) an unambitious corporate recycling of the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, and b) not nearly as good as the originals. In fact, practically every reaction begins with a caveat somewhere down the line; the reviewers consequently choose to overlook them in forming their final judgments. It’s as if fans, like hopeless drug addicts, are frightened to acknowledge the movie’s woefully apparent negatives out of fear that it’ll spoil the high of their current fix.
What JJ Abrams has essentially done with The Force Awakens is retcon Return of the Jedi out of existence by way of tabula rasa. Yes, you heard that right. In no way does this movie feel like an organic extension of the original trilogy’s conclusion. Sad to say, many of the expanded universe novels, previously considered canonical, actually expanded on the classic characters, and the universe they inhabit, in a more believable and satisfying manner than this so-called “sequel” does. The OT favorites have been damned to miserable fates; their achievements undercut and their arcs stripped of all their hard-earned dignity. The transformations each underwent over the course of Lucas’ middle trilogy have been dialed back halfway, since Abrams clearly had no idea how to build upon the rock-solid foundation previously established. Moreover, the Rebels’ overall victory over the Empire now counts for naught. It’s the dictionary definition of one step forward, two steps back, if ever there was one. In fact, I’d go as far as comparing The Force Awakens to Alien 3 and the shattering death of Newt and Hicks pre-credits. That film, too, undercut its predecessor in reductive and depressing style. Still, we can blame that particular example on studio mismanagement; in the case of The Force Awakens, the dynamic duo of Abrams and Kasdan are complicit and guilty as charged.
The movie begins, as anticipated, with the traditional opening crawl common to all Star Wars episodes, and there the problems begin. We’re informed that Luke’s the last surviving Jedi, the order on the verge of extinction once again (some “return”, eh?), and that the First Order has arisen from the ashes of the Empire. According to pre-release material, said entity now controls half the galaxy, a marked reduction from the Empire’s prior galactic domination. The trouble is, nowhere in the movie is a casual viewer afforded this context and, thusly, the First Order actually appears larger and more powerful than its predecessor. Indeed, they seem to possess resources sufficient to building a superweapon forty times the size of the original dreaded Death Star. Does Abrams understand how basic economics work? The way the chirruping greedhead has cannily marketed both himself and his lacklustre filmography on the way to box office riches would suggest so, but the evidence of his fictional storytelling perhaps says otherwise.
And that’s half the trouble with this movie. Its background context, encompassing a thirty year-plus span, is poorly established. The Republic seems to have reformed, leading one to wonder why a “Resistance” – a smaller, more ragtag version of the Rebellion – exists at all. Is its purpose to perform covert missions on behalf of radicals like the now “General” Leia Organa? The viewer will have to puzzle that one out for themselves, because Abrams and Kasdan sure didn’t bother to put any exposition, no matter how subtle, in their script. It makes one pine for Lucas’s clean, archetypal OT storytelling, where the dynamics were firmly established and the viewer always knew what was happening, why it was happening, and who to root for.
Following this confusing preamble, we track a line of First Order shuttles down to the planet Jakku, where a Resistance pilot, Poe, has made contact with a senior Resistance operative, played by Max von Sydow in an inconsequential role that is a waste of this esteemed actor’s mighty talents. The first line of the movie, occurring over a transaction between the two, is, believe it or not: “This will begin to make things right.” One is forced to gag at this horribly smug and egotistical self-referencing. It’s the kind of hipster, meta-fictional garbage that defines everything wrong with the current, self-satisfied and cannibalistic era of franchise filmmaking. JJ Abrams hasn’t earned the right to pre-emptively position himself as the savior of any IP, never mind one as major as this. It’s even worse than Tarantino having Brad Pitt mouth “What do you think? I believe this could be my masterpiece,” after carving a swastika into the forehead of a Nazi in the closing moments of Inglourious Basterds, but at least that line was sardonically amusing and well-earned after the clever film it followed. Abrams’ appropriation of the same is just arrogant and, given the disastrous film it precedes, a laughable exercise in hubris.
Audiences will certainly be (or damn well should be!) infuriated that The Force Awakens fails to fulfil the most basic tenet of its agreement as a sequel to Return of the Jedi: that of allowing us to spend time with the original gang of heroes one last time, and enjoying their interaction together. By now, you’ll know that that isn’t the case and that the movie effectively serves as a swansong for Han Solo, with Luke Skywalker shoehorned in as a living McGuffin, and Carrie Fisher, well…being Carrie Fisher. From his uncharacteristically enthusiastic appearances on talkshows before the movie’s release, I thought Ford would be one of the few, dependable highlights of the movie and indeed, he isn’t bad, but his performance can barely be said to be more than adequate. It’s clear that the only reason he wanted to return was to fulfill his original intention, denied by Lucas, to kill Solo off. As indeed he is, in typical, maudlin, soap opera fashion. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the reports that Ford’s involvement in Episode VII was a prerequisite for Disney to consider using him in the next Indiana Jones (instead of recasting the title character) were true.
Perhaps Abrams and Kasdan’s attempt to shunt the original cast into unfulfilling background or supporting roles jives with Abrams’s expressed desire to render the original cast “mythic” figures that few have encountered or believe in, akin, in Abrams’s words, to “the Knights of King Arthur”. This comparison, of course, makes no sense. King Arthur’s Roundtable was a myth, with dubious historical pedigree, and the purported events took place thousands of years before the present day. In the Star Wars galaxy, we know that Luke, Han and Leia – not to mention the Jedi – are real, without a doubt, and so do the other inhabitants of that galaxy, as their exploits took place not only a mere thirty years prior but were also likely recorded on holocron (the Star Wars equivalent of information storage/TV). With the Republic now in charge of half the galaxy, there would be no reason for this information to be repressed or propagandized, even from or toward those on remote desert backwaters like the new protagonist, Rey.
In any case, Solo’s much-vaunted return to the screen occurs in a protracted sequence emblematic of the lazy plotting inherent to this movie (and to all Abrams’s efforts). The new heroic duo of Rey and Finn steal the Falcon (conveniently sitting in the desert as it’s now the property of the scrap dealer who employs Rey) and, after a video game-like pursuit by some TIE- fighters, manage to escape the planet Jakku. But they cannot get the hyperdrive working and end up being captured by a giant salvage vessel commandeered by space pirates. And Han Solo just happens to be onboard the very same vessel. Maybe I missed something and the Falcon had an automatic pilot that guides it back to Solo (which wouldn’t make sense, since it has gone through many different owners since Solo lost it), but either way it’s extremely lazy plotting. Han’s introductory scenes are particularly bad, as he engages in a dispute with Scottish and Asian smugglers that appear to have stepped out of an episode of British Sci-Fi sitcom, Red Dwarf. It all feels distinctly un-Star Wars-ish, as does a following slapstick sequence, tedious in the extreme, involving a couple of tentacled monsters that get loose aboard The Millennium Falcon and chase everyone around its corridors before eating a couple of extras. The creatures are rendered with some of the worst CG I’ve seen in a supposedly big-budget blockbuster for some time, and appear to have escaped from the workstations of the special effects artists used on the Men in Black movies. It’s a foolish sequence, targeted at the very young, that wastes invaluable time that could have been better spent explaining the plot, establishing character or, indeed, anything else.
In any case it matters not, as Han is ultimately set back to zero as a character, and his character arc over the course of the OT completely erased. We learn that he’s returned to his former smuggling ways because it was “the only thing he ever knew.” The EU novels did a far better job in developing the concept of an older Solo. Just as in those books, it would have made more sense for the character to have risen to the rank of Admiral in the Republic fleet and, bored with his duties and responsibilities, decide to go on a reckless, last-ditch suicide mission with Rey and Finn to destroy the Starkiller base as a sort of end-life crisis attempt to recapture the glory of his long-gone, misspent youth. Such an arc would have been somewhat akin to the poignancy of Kirk’s in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and serve as a believable way to make the character relatable again without sacrificing his growth, investing his death with weight and meaning. Blithely returning him to smuggler duties for many years prior, “just because”, and concluding with a cheap melodramatic cap to a contrived conflict between father and son we were never privy to (more on that later), doesn’t produce the desired effect. It also goes without saying that Abrams, in his endless quest to model The Force Awakens after A New Hope, had to find a mirror to Obi-Wan’s death at the hands of Vader, and Han served as the sacrificial lamb in that artificial pursuit. Cock Nose is, as always, incapable of organic storytelling and always looks for the easy way out, endlessly looking to ape better films and filmmakers, whose ideas he can copy-and-paste with minimal effort.
But all the disappointment of Han Solo’s return cannot possibly compete with the scotch-and-cocaine fuelled horror that is Carrie Fisher’s reprisal of Leia Organa. Now looking more amphibian-like than Admiral Ackbar himself and with a voice that Harvey Fierstein would envy, Fisher appears stoned throughout her few appearances. She must have been on valium during the shoot; there’s no other rational explanation. Indeed, it appears that she’s forgotten how to act in toto, and her performance contains none of Leia’s previous sass or warmth. It very much brings to mind Karen Allen’s reprisal of Marion in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull. Allen too, seemed to have forgotten how to play her character, although she at least resembled an older version of her youthful self. Leia, by contrast, is damn near unrecognizable as herself and shows little emotion over Han’s death; obviously the awful facelift robbed Fisher of the ability to cry. For a character that was once deeply in love with another, it’s such an unconvincing reaction to display that it almost single-handedly ruins any gravitas or emotional depth the movie has vainly tried to scrape together up until that point.
As for Luke, he shows up only at the end to tease the next episode and entice suckers back into the theater two years hence (and we are all suckers for willingly participating in this charade, for shame!). Hamill certainly looks the part, resembling a more moth-eaten and stir-crazy version of Alec Guinness; it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll bring his best to Episode VIII, unlike his two paycheck whore co-stars in this installment. But using Luke as cheap bait and giving him no lines whatsoever is a terrible cheat appropriated from Cock Nose’s tenure producing episodic TV shows. In those shows, it’s all build up and no pay off, and Cock Nose has carried over those wretched principles to his entire filmography thus far. Never has it been more evident than it is here.
The new characters are a very mixed bag indeed. Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac make the biggest impression, coasting by purely on screen presence. The character arc of the former has been ruined in the employ of the typical SJW agenda of the day. Rey is one of the most hyperbolic examples of the “Mary Sue” archetype to yet come down the pike. She’s great at everything: lightsaber combat, piloting, and using Jedi mind tricks on stormtroopers, often with little practice and sometimes none at all. She is possessed of absolutely no flaws, and shows no weaknesses.
Wrong franchise, Daisy. And you’re not performing the gesture right, either. Don’t worry: even your director can’t tell the difference between the two ‘Star’ franchises…
To Ridley’s credit, she plays these limited aspects quite well. However, due to the aforementioned Mary Sue-isms, she is completely unbelievable as a character and hard to empathize with, and these flaws must be laid with Abrams and Kasdan’s (who should know better) short-sighted scriptwriting. None of her triumphs feel earned, the way Luke’s did. When Luke got his ass handed him to by Vader in Empire, we felt it. When Luke proved his worth in the Falcon gunport in A New Hope and started shooting down TIEs, much to his own delight, we delighted with him. Since Rey is practically an accomplished Jedi Padawan from the off, where can her character go over the course of this trilogy? How can she grow?
Isaac is the most charismatic new addition as a kind of younger and less sarcastic Han Solo archetype (with a dash of Wedge thrown in), but he doesn’t have that much screentime and his character is again much too capable to allow for any legitimate growth. Solo was worldly but also imperfect; he got through situations by the skin of his teeth. Isaac’s Poe, by contrast, isn’t just a skilled pilot in the Resistance/Rebellion, like his forerunner, Wedge; he’s a superhuman pilot who navigates his way flawlessly through aerial combat as if he were a kid playing the latest X-box game from the comfort of his own living room. Even torture at the hands of Kylo Ren early in the film isn’t enough to traumatize or shake Poe.
The third major new addition, John Boyega as Finn, is energetic and likeable enough, but his character arc makes little sense and his acting lacks nuance. This is a person, after all, who has been indoctrinated from earliest childhood toward becoming a trained and deadly stormtrooper. In his first experience of combat, a raid on a Jakku village, he experiences a pang of compassion and is immensely shaken. His switch of allegiance comes out of nowhere and is almost totally unbelievable. But far more unbelievable still is his lack of discipline and composure. This guy is running around the desert, sweating like a stuck pig, drinking greedily out of the water troughs of beasts like an alcoholic at last call. A trained stormtrooper should have been cool, calm and collected, even under pressure and stress, and very resourceful. Finn’s character arc should have been handled in a much more gradual and subtle fashion.
What I find even more appalling is that Finn’s arc is basically a none-too-subtly “disguised” slave narrative. The character starts out not even possessed of a name, his only identity being a serial number. Finn goes on the run pursued by his former masters, and then, after hooking up with first Poe, then Rey and finally Solo himself, becomes a mugging comedy sidekick, blurting out naïve enthusiasm and eager to please his white saviors. His interaction with Poe, early in the movie, as they escape a star destroyer, resembles something out of a Bad Boys movie. I’m surprised they didn’t cast Martin Lawrence (another sweaty, mugging midget) as the character. Many wrongfully gave Lucas grief over his use of stereotyped alien voices in The Phantom Menace (when they were actually throwbacks to old Flash Gordon serials), but I’m sure the SJWs will have a field day with this one as it borders on the explicitly racist. Finn is basically a stupid wimp who, in the end, is saved by his Mary Sue white female companion.
Perhaps these numerous character failings are not such a problem in the opening episode of the new trilogy, but it’s difficult to see where things can be taken in the future sequels. As with Star Trek or any IP he gets his hands on and “reboots”, Cock Nose Abrams lays down all sorts of problems for followers by virtue of his ill-thought-out scripts. He takes the money and the initial credit and runs, leaving others to clean up his slop. Rian Johnson certainly has a task on his hands to forge something credible from Jar Jar’s rickety foundations, and plausible and gradual development of the three newcomers will form the core of his problems
As mediocre as the central trio of new heroes prove to be, however, the villains are far more of a failure: they are almost entirely awful, not a patch on Lucas’s iconic creations. The worst, of course, is the baboon going by the name of Kylo Ren. This emo punk is an ill-disciplined Dark Sider, who worships his grandpappy, Darth Vader, and explodes in tantrums of rage when things don’t go his way, trashing control consoles on the bridge of his star destroyer like a teenager trashing his room. That was surely the intention, but it comes off as laughable in execution: Driver is a thirty-something man, not a punk kid. Rick Moranis was more believable as “Dark Helmet” in Spaceballs, a comedic spoof of Vader that Ren unfortunately brings to mind. Anakin Skywalker was also accused of being a whiner at times, but that character actually was a teenager, a mere nineteen years of age in Attack of the Clones and with a deprived upbringing as a slave in his past. Ren is more like one of those insufferable hipsters with wealthy parents, who, by virtue of being coddled all their lives, never fully grow up. It’s a sorry choice for a villain’s characterization, even if it perhaps has some real-life precedent. Nobody wants to see hipster man-children in Star Wars; we have the internet for that!
Moreover, the scene where Ren removes his helmet to reveal a Halloween mask – sorry, face – has been met, according to online reports, with consistent titters and mumblings from the audience (it certainly was at my screening). Driver simply looks nothing like the offspring of Han and Leia he’s supposed to be (yes, really); the man is one of the goofiest looking motherfuckers I’ve ever seen and would be more at home in a Seth Rogan- stoner comedy than an epic space saga, and certainly not as the imposing villain of the piece. I give him credit, though: anyone brave enough to humiliate oneself by having screen sex with dyke du jour, Lena Dunham, deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in the line in the line of duty. Driver’s tours of Iraq as a marine prior to becoming an actor obviously came in handy. Balls of steel, man; balls of steel.
In a pathetic attempt to ape Vader’s earth-shattering revelations at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, we learn, as aforementioned, that Ren is actually Han Solo’s son, Ben, who turned on Uncle Luke and destroyed his burgeoning New Jedi Order. This twist provokes chuckles, rather than shock or awe, and the continuing, rather implausible emphasis on familial plot twists further reduces Star Wars to a tawdry soap opera where every character is revealed to be of dubious parentage. I’m sure Episode VIII will contain further revelations of this nature, with Rey revealed to be the estranged offspring of Luke. Hmmm…it appears the Star Wars galaxy’s nothing but one big, intergalactic fuckfest of bareback one night stands, deadbeat dads and wayward offspring. Add to that the fact that Ren really does look nothing like his parents and you’ve got to wonder. Maybe Leia, hopped up to the eyeballs on crystal meth, did make the beast with two backs with Admiral Ackbar? It’s the only explanation for Ren’s Gonzo the Great phizog. My God! Killed by an ungrateful, whining pussy after being forced to raise him in ignorance of his true parentage, and being cuckolded by the sexual charms of a giant fish: Solo has truly been reduced to PC bitch status by Cock Nose and his cronies!
And what of this film’s puppet master arch-villain, the Palpatine analogue, Snoke? The character design is an unmitigated disaster, resembling nothing more than a giant Gollum rendered with some of the worst CGI since Dwayne Johnson’s Scorpion King in the Mummy Returns. It’s truly appalling, especially when you consider the advances motion capture has made in recent years (often in roles assayed by Andy Serkis himself, no less) and the amount of money Disney has thrown at this thing.
The much-touted Captain Phasma turns out be an absolute non-entity of a character, as useless as her forerunner, Boba Fett, but minus the intriguing suggestion of the latter, which was implicit in his costume and body language. She only has two scenes in the movie: first reprimanding a shaken Finn for hesitating in combat and, later, being taunted by the former when Han Solo captures her at gunpoint in the Starkiller base. This particular moment utterly nullifies any threat the character poses, as Finn happily trash talks and taunts the metallic dummy. Surely if she was such a feared commander, a former subordinate, particularly a character as cowardly as Finn – even with Han Solo at his back for protection– wouldn’t dare to smartmouth her. Can you imagine someone taunting Darth Vader and screaming “Hey, bitch! Watchoo gonna do?”, in the event Vader had somehow been captured by the Rebels and put under house arrest? No way: Vader demanded a kind of awed respect, even as he was hated and feared.
Unless something was cut (there have been unconfirmed rumors of a 160 minute edit of this movie, complete with finished music and FX, in the vaults), I fail to see why Phasma was featured so heavily in pre-release materials and showcased so prominently. Was it simply because she was supposed to look cool? It’s just a stormtrooper spray-painted with chrome, for fuck’s sake!
Which leads me into another digression: I’m absolutely convinced the reason this turkey recycles so many plot and design elements from the OT, with the few new creations on show being utterly generic, isn’t simply because Jar Jar wanted to rehash the famous tropes of the series for the purpose of fan service (although that’s certainly part of it). It’s undoubtedly due to the truncated production schedule, designed to appease share holders, as well. Kennedy originally wanted to release The Force Awakens in summer 2016 and was overruled, with Cock Nose unsurprisingly taking the side of the money men; such a short window to complete the movie obviously left no time to come up with either a coherent story, a raft of new designs, or first rate CG in post-production. TFA looks like one of Abrams’ TV- pilots in places, particularly the dull midsection on the forest planet where Rebel contact, Maz Kanata, stations her secret hideout. There’s no sense of scope to the proceedings at all, just a blend of murky interiors, close-shot framing and a general air of claustrophobia. The subtle details and little touches of Lucas’ environments are nowhere to be seen. And nowhere is this more evident than in the screenplay and the direction.
All around, the script of The Force Awakens is an unqualified disaster. It’s truly one of the worst I’ve witnessed since Orci’s Star Trek travesties or the dreadful quartet of non-narratives that comprise the Transformers- franchise. Lucas’s prequel screenplays were garbled and messy in places, bursting under the weight of complex social and political plots and the need to balance that with summer movie action thrills, but at least they were ambitious and contained subtext. Abrams pulls the same lazy tricks that he and his ratpack of cretins have utilized for every single one of their odious films from the beginning: jam a bunch of barely connected crap together onscreen, throw it at the wall, and see what sticks. Don’t bother setting up any backstory or exposition, don’t bother establishing rules or internal logic, or developing a narrative in a coherent manner; rescue yourself from tricky plot points by recourse to cheats, shortcuts and coincidence.
An early example of this nonsense is when Finn breaks the captured Poe out of jail on a star destroyer and they steal a TIE to escape. Obviously, Abrams and Kasdan had to get the two back to Jakku to retrieve BB-8, who holds part of the key to finding Luke’s whereabouts in his memory banks. The dictates of the plot demands that Finn meet up with Rey alone – so what does Jar Jar do to get out of this jam? He has Finn wake up alone after being shot down on Jakku, Poe mysteriously nowhere to be seen. Apparently, the wonder pilot bailed out at some point. Later, Poe magically shows up during the Resistance counter-attack to the First Order’s assault on the forest planet secret base, with nary an explanation for his disappearance from the entire first half of the movie. He’s there when the plot needs him to be, and when it doesn’t….he isn’t. Jesus wept.
Another cheat is when Anakin/Luke’s lightsaber, stored in a crate in the bowels of the base belonging to poor man’s Yoda, Maz Kanata, “magically” calls to Rey to inform her of her (inferred) lineage. This lightsaber came from where, exactly? As I recall, it was lost in the bowels of Cloud City and probably swept out into the gas giant’s atmosphere. Certainly, nobody but Vader or Luke knew what happened to it. So, in a galaxy of billions of star systems, someone found and retrieved a single lightsaber, just so we could have yet more coincidental callbacks to the previous movies? That’s beyond looking for a needle in a haystack; that’s akin to randomly trying to find a microbe in the volume encompassed by the Pacific Ocean with a pair of tweezers attached to a submersible’s hydraulic arm. Perhaps the saber simply “called” to its finders? Yes, like the Force conveniently calls to everyone in Jar Jar’s version of the Star Wars galaxy; it helps keep everything nice and tidy.
Fittingly, the movie ends with the biggest plot cheat of all as R2, seemingly in some kind of depressed, self-imposed shutdown for the duration of the flick, suddenly springs back to life – FOR NO APPARENT REASON WHATSOEVER. Again, ludicrous coincidence comes into play, as R2 just happens to hold the missing piece of BB-8’s holographic map to Luke Skywalker’s location. This laughable denouement renders the entire film pointless, as the little tin bastard could have woken up at any time. It’s the ultimate deux ex machina, and insultingly stupid. Yes, there was a tradition in the originals of R2 suddenly and randomly saving the day, for example his repair of the hyperdrive during the escape from Bespin, but the entire plots of those movies never hinged on R2’s last-minute interventions. Jar Jar has once again only copied the surface tropes without truly understanding how and why they work.
R2’s zero hour intercessions in the OT were, in fact, not plot cheats at all, but really just examples of Lucas’ quirky sense of humor and affection for the side characters and humble, ordinary folk of his heroic tales. Lest we forget, the peasants of Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern served as inspiration for the droids. It was a clever subversion of traditional mythology’s preference for chiseled demigods and all-powerful beings. Jar Jar Abrams – no doubt being an inept, nebbish twat in his teens who idolized the ‘cool’ jocks and cheerleaders – favors the strong, the good-looking, and the proud, perhaps explaining his missteps with the new characters: the beautiful girl is perfect, and the handsome crack pilot is slicker than Tom Cruise’s grinning Maverick in Top Gun. True Star Wars always hinged on how relatable its archetypes were: Leia was a strong female character, but sarcastic, flawed and definitely no story-book princess. Han fumbled through situations through spontaneous improvisation and sheer luck. Luke was earnest and clumsy. Even Obi-Wan had a sense of mischief about him. There’s none of that in The Force Awakens.
The big threat of the film, the Starkiller superweapon itself, aka Death Star III, aka “George Lucas doesn’t have balls as big as I, JJ, hee hee hee,” is a truly retarded creation. Apparently, it works by pulling in the nearest star in order to fuel itself. But since it’s an actual planet, as opposed to a mechanical construction, it’s immobile. So how the hell does it refuel for a second attack? What is its range? It’s another example of something in the plot doing something just because it needs to, not because it operates on sound principles of logic. Star Wars was never beholden to scientific principles – indeed, Lucas’s goal in the creation of the original was intentionally to avoid them – so the astrophysics of wiping out stars and their effects on the neighboring systems don’t come into play, but in any good movie some internal logic is, and should be, expected. Abrams, in his infantile thinking, simply though it’d be rad to one-up Uncle George by creating an even bigger Death Star – gosh golly, super duper, cool! – but didn’t think the principles of such a device, and how it operates according to story parameters, through. And the ease with which it’s defeated (far more easily and with less effort than its two OT equivalents) belies its hugeness and makes a mockery of it. Didn’t anyone ever tell El Cock Nose that it’s not the size that counts; it’s how you use it? Probably his long-suffering wife; I bet the fucker is still pondering that one when he appraises his needle dick under the magnifying glass.
Said weapon demonstrates its power in a sequence that is again a pale facsimile of its OT progenitor. The bad guys use the Starkiller to destroy the New Republic on Coruscant. I presume it’s supposed to be Coruscant, because Jar Jar completely failed to set up any context for the planet or the weapon’s target. We catch a quick glimpse of dignitaries on a balcony before the planet is reduced to atoms, but the sequence lacks any horror or emotion. It’s about as involving as someone standing on an ant hill and wiping his boot afterwards. In A New Hope, although we didn’t glimpse the surface activity on Alderaan, we gleaned the true horror and monstrousness of the situation through Leia’s desperate pleas and Tarkin’s coldly calculated indifference. It’s a sequence that shows just what a talented and inventive filmmaker can do with minimal resources if he or she is possessed of a great grasp of storytelling dynamics. With a budget twenty times its number and all the resources of ILM at his disposable, a hack can only approximate to much lesser effect. Thus, the star-killing sequence, crucially meant to showcase how great a threat the First Order poses to galactic stability, falls utterly flat and is a resounding failure.
In fact, the story of TFA is, all around, paper-thin. Nothing really happens in this movie at all. The baddies launch an attack on the Inner Rim; the resistance witness it from afar; they decide to launch an attack on the Starkiller. Divested of a few padded subplots, that’s it, in a nutshell. And there’s no detailed worldbuilding or character development to fill in the corners and prop up this narrative paucity.
Jar Jar’s direction, particularly his handling of the setpieces, is equally bad: rushed, perfunctory, and offering no tension or excitement. It goes without saying that Cock Nose still has no discernible style to speak of, but he can’t even mimic Lucas to decent effect. Nothing in the story is given room to breathe. Indeed, there is not a single memorable action sequence, moment, or line of dialogue to be found anywhere, and I defy anyone to come up with one without struggling. Since everything is copied beat-for-beat from ANH, the movie struggles to create any meaningful tension or suspense as all the beats are heavily telegraphed: you can see everything coming in advance. The Force Awakens commits the most cardinal sin of all, beyond which all other sins can be excused: it’s boring.
Also, Abrams simply has no feel for the cinematic, a talent which can often counter a lack of script surprise by masterfully employing all the tricks of the trade to immerse the viewer in the here and now. The climactic trench battle – yes, they copied that, too, complete with laser turret gun defenses and a Porkins- lookalike played by Abrams’ childhood buddy, Greg Grunberg – is over in about two seconds. The Starkiller base is destroyed with ease, and there’s no gradual escalation of events, no casualties, no sense of diminishing hope. I already knew that Abrams would try to ape A New Hope’s legendary finale, but I thought he’d at least do a competent facsimile of it. Remember how Lucas’ Death Star assault/trench run built rhythmically, with so many punctuated beats tied to Williams’ score; how all seemed lost; and there was constant, tense cross-cutting between the Death Star and the rebel base on Yavin IV? It was an utterly masterful sequence, one of all time greatest action setpieces in cinema, up there with the chase in The French Connection or the battle at the climax of The Seven Samurai. Abrams’s equivalent is like an antiseptic videogame- and not just because of the CGI. It has all the emotional involvement of a group of jubilant fratboys having a day out competing against each other in a flight simulator.
In conclusion, TFA is the apotheosis of Abrams’ career to date, in the most negative sense possible. In the words of a character from The Usual Suspects, “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was making us believe he didn’t exist.” Abrams IS that devil and has delivered a terrible Star Wars movie – nay, terrible movie, period – that doesn’t stand up to the slightest scrutiny, but delivers so much surface copycatting that it will, and has, temporarily tricked fans into believing that it’s something other than the cynical piece of shit, and betrayal of Lucas’ ethos, that it actually is. Abrams did much the same thing with his ’09 Star Trek reboot; here he executes the con on a much larger scale.
Perhaps the slyest trick Abrams has pulled is to direct only this initial entry in the trilogy and jump ship, leaving others to clean up his leavings. That way he gets to reap the glory for “saving” Star Wars but doesn’t have to deal with the fallout, as he did when audiences started realizing what a con, built on sand, his Star Trek reboot series was. Poor Rian Jonson may be left with the Star Trek Into Darkness of the new Star Wars trilogy, as it will be extremely difficult to build on, let alone correct, Abrams’s innumerable missteps. In the end, The Force Awakens itself will fade fast from memory, as it is nothing but a set-up for future movies and cannot offer a satisfying or memorable experience of its own. It offers only a superficial surface experience and brings nothing new to the Star Wars mythos.
As an addendum to this, The Force Awakens heralds a new and final era in Star Wars history. After this, there can never be another, as Disney plan on making an unbroken chain of movies until the death of everyone currently alive on the planet (or until the box office fizzles) – the dictates of vulgar capitalism demand it. Previously, there were distinct cycles of Star Wars – with the first in each trilogy being widely anticipated or received. That kind of weighty generational break will never happen again, and the attendant anticipation and celebration it fostered will never again be repeated. Star Wars Phase 3 will instead descend into indifference, as the glut of forthcoming movies fail to build upon each other and instead follow the course of episodic TV shows, becoming increasingly fudged and indistinct to the point of banality and mass audience indifference. If there is to be an Episode X – and there will be; have no doubt of it – it will follow only a year or two after this trilogy’s conclusion. So, in effect, Abrams has cunningly positioned himself as the last word on the series. Lucas must be seething. He created Palpatine, one of the strongest examples of the archetypal manipulative mastermind ever to be witnessed on the cinema screen, and, ironically, was checkmated by his real-life equivalent. One can only imagine Abrams dressed in a cloak and cackling maniacally, cock nose aquiver in the peals of mirth, as the full ramifications of his “victory” (and our loss) become clear. The Emperor undoubtedly would have approved. To wit: “(old) fool, only now, at the end, do you understand…”
Verdict: 3/10 – 1 point for the Lucasfilm logo; another point for the “Star Wars” main title; a final one for the end credits!!