Be forewarned: as with any review or reflective piece, this is wrought with spoilers. For better or for worse, I am making my position on the new Star Wars film clear.
I’ll start by explaining that there are two types of Star Wars fans: dabblers and live-ins. Dabblers watch the movies, sometimes, and maybe buy a Star Wars t-shirt or coffee mug. Live-ins watch, read, write, etc, and can cite various numbers of authors, titles and stories (not to mention countless film or book details word for word) from the series. The latter fans are now sitting in dark corners, sobbing their hearts out. Their world has been mercilessly obliterated.
Star Wars has lost its heart. Probably the biggest thing about any Star Wars story (this is why the X-Wing or Bounty Hunter spinoffs were so-so) was the sense of nobility. Whether it was sith or jedi, there was always something noble. Sith were coldly noble, something like Alexander or Julius Caesar. Powerful and cunning and aloof. Jedi were Arthurian knights, noble brothers in arms following an honorable and ancient code. But that’s all gone now; jedi, sith, droids, tusken raiders, they all act the same. Everyone and everything acts base and bland. It’s that beautiful Hollywood principle of flattening the playing field, I guess.
Next, Star Wars has turned to clichés and repetition. For a moment Han Solo brought his familiar, fresh feel and voice to the scene, but I guess the director got sick of letting him say non-bland lines, because a stop was quickly put to that. But what was with using the exact same lines to reintroduce the Milennium Falcon? Why did that even need to happen? Anyone watching the new film will either 1) know the ship already and be confused at how it got lost or why it was lost or what in blazes it was doing out of Han’s possession for so long or 2) not give a damn about spaceships and their general state and certainly not spare a thought about whether or not it is a bucket of bolts. Needless to say, there were many pointless lines that were directly stolen from the movies that directly prequelled this film. The Force Awakens uses countless recycled Hollywood lines (I mention this later as well) rather than original Lucas lines. This isn’t Die Hard X or Jurassic X.
Logic was spilled all over the floor and swept under the carpet from scene one. The very first glance we get of the stormtrooper, he is stunned by the death of his comrade. He goes utterly haywire about it. But two scenes later, without any misgivings, he’s blowing his comrades-in-arms away willy-nilly from the secondary gunning seat aboard a TIE fighter. What happened to the trauma induced by his dying partner tracing a (as in a typical zombie scene) four-finger trail of blood across his visor? But I’ve moved ahead of myself here – the first issue started with the yellow text. Luke has run away for no good reason – he’s fled! He was confronted by darkness (he’s faced that before as he’s had to face his own father in combat) but this time he fled, and for some unexplained reason left a map to his whereabouts (a galactic easter egg hunt) which all his friends and family have to solve if they are to survive the onslaught of their enemies. Back in Return of the Jedi, Luke learned pretty darned well that fleeing was not the way to solve anything. All his friends got in big trouble when he left. So now he’s done it again? The next thing that confused me was the swordplay. Everyone is a master swordsman. Several duels occur during the movie, and somehow sith have fallen beneath even stormtroopers in martial training. Not to mention that the lady of the story (not Leia, although it was nice to see her back) was even able to master a selection of force maneuvers after knowing she had force attunement for approximately a single day. It took Anakin and Luke Skywalker many years to even slightly channel their abilities, even though they were two of the most powerful jedi later in their lives. And why is the rebellion only four wings of X-wings big? They lose nearly ten X-wings and then everybody’s screaming that half the fleet has been wiped out! They’ve had more than twenty years without the emperor or Darth Vader around to build up their forces and contacts. The Empire was in shambles at the end of Return of the Jedi. Not to mention that they never brought in any Y-wings for the bombing runs – X-wings can stock a torpedo or two that can replace a bomb in a very tight pinch, but Y-wings are actual bombers. Any Star Wars fan knows that! And Ben (although Disney, you ought to realize that his name was actually Jacen), switched between two ultra-odd modes. Without his helmet, he cried and cried and cried all the time (very sith of him). With his helmet, he became stronger but for some reason his voice modulator was perpetually broken; it was nigh on impossible to understand anything he said. It’s not like he has voice issues like Anakin had when his body had been ravaged by flame until he had to be reconstructed, so what was that all about? I can go much, much further into logic issues here, but I’d better leave the rest up to you to find for now. This post would be a few thousand words longer if I included them all.
Acting. I’m not sure if this was due to the Star Wars acting competitions or not (budget talent), but so many of the actors appeared to be over-dramatizing non-dramatic scenes (adding unnecessary melodrama). Wide eyes, tense voices, urgent attitudes, all the time. Even in the dead calm of desert solitude, Rey acts sullen and pouty. Why? She might have been apathetic or losing hope. She instead looked like she just got rejected from… cheerleader tryouts? I’m glad for everyone who got to act in such a once-beautiful franchise, but maybe they could have used some direction and/or makeup? This wasn’t the first draft of a web series or a new series. It’s a new instalment into one of the most highly-acclaimed sci-fi franchises in existence. Edit (some years later): I’m fully aware now that acting issues are entirely directorial in nature. Directors choose what to keep, cut, reshoot, and more. I can’t fault the actors for directorial failings.
The canon decanonization was a brutal slap-in-the-face. Timothy Zahn wrote some absolutely incredible books for Lucas… The Hand of Thrawn trilogy, for instance. Jude Watson also wrote fantastic stories for Star Wars. Is Disney really so illiterate that its people cannot take good stories from the existing canon and have to instead blacklist them as unofficial to make their own (severely lacking) story stand on its own feet? Timothy Zahn already laid out thrilling, logical, exciting sequels to Return of the Jedi. The material was there. The story was simple. Instead, Disney scrunched lines from Die Hard and Taken and Jurassic Park (“you’re keeping raptors here?”) and other thriller films and needlessly crammed them into Star Wars. Star Wars didn’t need recycled lines. Words aren’t about to add to global litter or anything. People may have groaned at Lucas for some things, but originality was never one of those reasons.
Will I say anything good about the new film? Sure. The landscapes were gorgeous; the desert panorama of wrecked Star Destroyers, for instance, was simply breathtaking… but concept artists almost always do a good job, and special effects are (while still requiring skill and effort) pretty run-of-the-mill now – they stopped being special after around the time of The Matrix 3 and Transformers..
So come on, Disney: was this a joke? Should I have left the cinema laughing? You’ve trashed the most fantastic sci-fi fantasy universe that was ever realized. Just knowing that you’re in the process of making further sequels is carving me up inside.
George Lucas, please… can’t you take your work of art back? I adored Star Wars.