The dark side has a new prodigal son but a familiar feeling all around. Lets look at the good, the bad and the ugly sides of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
(Please note that this article may contain spoilers and is intended to be read after you have seen the movie!)
In this fresh instalment; new heroines and heroes find their place in what is a hopelessly unstable region of universe. Our storey is set in an advanced society which is dogged by long forgotten religious fairytales of orders of combat-monks with superpowers who each have competing ideopolitical goals and methodologies. Slavery, class-warfare, lawlessness and scavenging seem commonplace in this society and the race between the implied democracy of the republican galactic senate and the intimidating conformity and violence of the royalist imperialists (in the form of the first order) to gain control and influence over all the citizens in the galaxy is as hot as ever.
What has happened since last time? Basically Luke has gone missing, Han and Chewie have been busy taking care of themselves (which is after all what they’re best at) and Leia has been consolidating her position at rebel command who have been presumably trying to mop up the remnants of the former incarnation of the empire while looking for her brother.
The stylings of the naziesque facism are still present in the fabric of the dark side. They still use their identical conformity, intimidation and indiscriminate killing to crush their opposition and as their choice tools in a seemingly unbending quest to wrest absolute power in the galaxy for themselves. The pathetically under-resourced, mongrel rebel band are forced to resist where they can. You can get the sense early and throughout this one that maybe this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the empire’s true reach and might. My best guess is that the imminent threat the senate and the rebels face in this edition is only a decoy while more forces still being marshalled somewhere off the radar (in a base of Mordor-like scale and fanaticism). And if that is the case if the rebels, the jedi and co fail to find greater numbers before the next battle, they could be pretty boned. Obviously we’ll have to wait and what the future holds for one of our most treasured episodical.
So after this episode what were we left with? First of all, I was a little disappointed the jump in time was so big or at least so poorly covered in this one. I would have liked seeing a more low-res, grassroots level study of how the dark-side managed to regroup and reform so quickly after such a decisive defeat in episode VI. How their spies and street gangs operate on individual planets and inside individual organisations by kicking in doors, manipulating local officials and how it is all tied in to the top levels of the organisation. On the other of the coin we could have seen a grittier account of the sacrifices made by the rebels who are potentially living in squalid conditions of their bases and coping with failing, ageing equipment & technology. After all it is easy to assume the rebels’ state funding would have been reduced after their victory in the war. Without an enemy the usefulness of huge military spending would normally diminish. And for that matter if the empire had previously been crushed and the dominant force for the last 30 years has been the galactic senate of the republic, why have the rebels not been absorbed into the mainstream of the republic’s defences? And why are they still regarded as the resistance and not just the defence force? Are they the survivalist militants who simply wouldn’t leave the bases, or maybe a token reserve corps tasked with maintaining the basic serviceability of the remote bases? If we dig deeper still we might ask: what kind of entrance is that for R2D2, was he on a timer? The explanation of how he is activated is non-existent. Why was the discussion of the rebel’s tactics so short and infantile? It certainly seems a little risky committing your entire strength to a battle after such a short conversation in the war room. And lastly, why was that uncomfortable silence at the end so long?
Unresolved plot-points aside, throughout there’s a good dynamic between the main characters and some nice moments with the original cast – and thankfully believable acting and dialogue (unlike parts I – III). The faithfulness to the effects, costumes, weapons and sets created for the original films is impressive. This film takes us on a very familiar route and hovers somewhere between evil-dead-style-remake, recap and sequel. It could just as easily have been called: Return of the Empire.
I hope the filmmakers take the opportunity to write their own future a little more with the story in the next episode and take it in a direction that will be genuinely inventive and surprising to the audience instead of just covering more old ground and adding pretty set pieces. I also hope they avoid doing too much needless disneyfication to the story to make it more appealing to the company’s target audience. I for one adored episodes IV-VI from the age of probably, 5 – exactly as they originally were. They’ve already bought the perfect kids series – it’s got laser swords, spaceships, droids, if they stay faithful to the original movies and worry about the story and the characters, the kids today will lap it up just as they did in the 70’s & 80’s.
Summary: See it.