Yesterday Arlys and I finally saw the most anticipated movie of 2015, the seventh and latest installment of Star Wars. I’m sure many of you have already seen it, but as a sci-fi writer and a long time Star Wars fan, I’m obliged to review it. Spoiler warning: It’s not going to be pretty.
I’ve heard a number of people rave about this film so I was prepared to be amazed. Instead I was quite disappointed. Maybe my problem was too much hype and anticipation. No, it’s not as bad as Episodes I and II (that is, the fourth and fifth releases.) But honestly, I think “Revenge of the Sith” was better. The visual effects and the acting were fine. But the writers (JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) have apparently gone to the Dark Side – is it too much to ask for a single new plot element?
OK, I admit that strictly speaking, there are no new stories, ever. The first Star Wars movie (Episode IV) is a prime example of the “Hero’s Journey,” as defined by the great Joseph Campbell. Even if we accept originality as a relative quantity, “The Force Awakens” would score in the negative numbers. Practically everything in it is recycled: a plucky young hero(ine), a droid with an urgent message, a tiny but wise and ancient alien, a family split between the Light and Dark Sides, the death of a beloved character, and a very familiar looking doomsday weapon. And get this: the new threat to the Galaxy is a gang of Imperial throwbacks led by a guy who raves like Adolf Hitler. It’s all too familiar. The old Imperial officers did look a lot like Nazis, didn’t they?
There’s only one aspect of Episode VII that’s new to the Star Wars franchise: the character of Finn (John Boyega), a deserter from the aforementioned fascistic First Order. Sadly, the writers botched that opportunity. For someone raised from birth to be a storm trooper, Finn has a depressingly normal personality. Perhaps we can accept that such a person might develop a conscience when ordered to massacre of innocent villagers. But where did he learn to speak in wisecracks and and be protective of females? He’s never known anything but soldiering, so we’d expect him to be super-confident, fearless, humorless, and naive about human relationships. Above all, he shouldn’t have tried to run from the conflict; a man like him would need to fight for a cause, even if it meant switching sides. Instead, Finn is a reluctant hero, and yet when the fighting starts, he’s incredibly cavalier about killing his former comrades. Where’s the internal conflict? And why aren’t his new friends more suspicious of him? Double agents posing as defectors are a time-tested strategy of war.
Rey’s character (Daisy Ridley) is another unfortunate waste of potential. We’re long past the time when attractive female warriors were novel and edgey. Now they need depth, nuance and back-story, none of which Rey has. Not that she’d have had time tor character growth at the frenetic pace of this movie. Her personal “force awakening” reminded me of a childhood dream where I suddenly, without warning or context, realized I had super-powers. Yes, science fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s a two way street. The writers have to give us something worth believing in.
I could rant on further about the movie’s Death-Star-sized plot holes, but I’ve gone on long enough. Despite all these problems, I did enjoy it. It’s visually stunning, with a background that’s full of delightful little details of both the biological and mechanical variety. The Star Wars characters we know and love are back, even if their interaction is a bit stilted at times. Finally, it leaves us with this mystery: how did Han and Leia’s son end up looking like Severus Snape?
Out of a possible five stars, I’d give it a 2.5. George, please come back!