A long time ago in this very same galaxy George Lucas’ creation Star Wars became a cultural phenomenon, inviting millions of children, generation after generation, to stare up at the silver screen with eyes agape, reflecting immeasurable awe and wonder at the world he created. How many of them dared to dream of one day contributing to that fictional world, with their own ideas to further the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and the rest, after celebrating on Endor the defeat of the Empire? How many would stand a ghost of a chance of realizing that dream, with no small amount of obstacles being a pull towards the visual arts, wrestling the copyright from control freak Lucas, and of course the perfect alignment of thousands of stars? The answer, we now know is three, Colin Trevorrow, Rian Johnson, and J.J. Abrams, the latter of which, after aping Spielberg with Super 8, turning the Mission Impossible franchise into a glorified Taken, and all but ruining Star Trek with his penchant for lens flare, has just unleashed his continuation of the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens to near-unanimous acclaim and unprecedented box office record-shattering. But for all its pomp, riding in on the tide-swell of a crowd psychology, gunning for your wallet, The Force Awakens is nothing more than desperate, sycophantic fan fiction, no different than what any one of those millions of children could come up with, except for the fact that it’s probably worse.
The first strike against the film, and one of the prevailing characteristics of milquetoast fan fiction, is that it takes absolutely zero chances with the material. We are thrust, yet again, onto a desert planet, where an unassuming scavenger with an unknown connection to “the force,” befriends a droid and gets caught up in an intergalactic battle between good and evil. Evil so happens to be creating a new weapon to destroy good, and a droid once again contains secret documents that both sides are looking for. Any of this sound familiar? Just as telling is where the film pretends to blaze its own path, with speculative “what if” scenarios like “what if there was a Stormtrooper with a conscience?” or “what if Han Solo and Princess Leia had a kid?” People can say what they want about the second trilogy, Lucas’ prequels from the turn of the century, but he actually tried to show audiences new and different things with each installment. Every frame of even The Phantom Menace contains more imagination and more innovation than the entirety of The Force Awakens, which is content to retread proven ground to the extent that not a single thing here feels like canon, and closing your eyes and believing doesn’t make it so.
Second, and perhaps most infuriating, is the way The Force Awakens weaves reverence for Star Wars mythology into its narrative. Every time a recognized character appears there is another character there to say “OMG, you’re THE Han Solo,” or “OMG, that’s Luke Skywalker’s light saber,” or “OMG, the Millennium Falcon?!” presuming the thoughts of a legion of fans, and no doubt the slyest of tricks up Abrams’ sleeve, to distract everyone from the fact that they are being separated from their hard earned cash by a wink and a smile, and that no actual reverence is being paid to characters many moviegoers grew up with, beyond a lust for their autograph.
This could be tolerable if the filmmaking was anywhere close to making up for it. J.J. Abrams cuts down on his trademark lens flare, that a quick internet search will prove was responsible for over nine minutes of actual screen time in the Star Trek reboot, but there is no evidence the director has evolved from his amateur directorial inspiration that “the future is so bright it cannot be contained in the frame” as simple set pieces become confusing spatial disasters, where one particular character has to be tracked down in the forest to be told that there is a battle going on when he is clearly only a few steps away from it. The acting is atrocious as well, though admittedly it wasn’t anything to write home about in the original trilogy, The Force Awakens makes Star Wars look like Shakespeare In The Park. We already have reports of Abrams calling star Daisy Ridley “wooden;” I can picture him yelling at her through a megaphone “you’re wooden darling, wooden, stop being wooden.” Further proof abounds with John Boyega’s complete ruination of comic timing, Adam Driver looking and acting like one of those half-naked people that stand in front of Hollister trying to get me to buy board shorts, Carrie Fisher who can barely move her lips to speak, and lest we forget, a completely smug Harrison “give me my money” Ford, as Han Solo, who in my opinion gets what he deserves. More than a few times The Force Awakens plays like derivative, geriatric fan fiction, with every other character groveling at their elders’ feet; it’s an embarrassment to say the least.
I wanted to like this film, really I did. I don’t hate fun. But is it too much to demand something more, or how about an actual real, tangible thing, out of something so beloved across many generations? In a time when we are only ever a few months away from yet another Marvel atrocity, market-tested for our approval, it would have been nice to see something that tried to separate itself from the pack. But from the looks of Disney’s upcoming slate of Star Wars films, it seems they are just trying to get their own piece of the pie. There are more Star Wars films coming out in the next five years than have been created in the last thirty. I’m not ok with my childhood turned into an assembly line for the lowest common denominator, and I hope that you aren’t either. All the 3D glasses-wearing selfies tell me otherwise.
The Verdict: Pan