The Force Awakens

What the world needs, clearly, is another review of Star Wars VII.  But despite the utter lack of necessity of this, I feel compelled.  I will say that this is at least as much an entry into the conversation about the movie as a stand-alone review.

The Non-Spoiler review:

It’s fun, it’s a spectacle, and it’s well made.  It takes nearly every beat from one of the original trilogy of movies, and breaks little new ground.

From here forward, there will be spoilers:

The principle question about The Force Awakens is to what extent its lack of originality is a major flaw.  First, let’s discuss exactly the ways in which it’s unoriginal.

The more wild-eyed critics of the film are prone to saying things like “it’s a scene-by-scene remake of episode IV.”  It’s not.  Almost every element of TFA is lifted from the original three movies, but they’re stirred together in a way that creates an overall plot that’s fairly distinct from them.  That is, yes, it has:

  • A Death Star-like superweapon
  • A mentor who dies to the principal villain
  • A protagonist who discovers unexpectedly strong powers in the Force
  • A cantina scene
  • Starship dogfights
  • Capture and interrogation by the villains
  • Sneaking around the enemy base
  • A lightsaber duel

But they don’t come together in the same way.  The cantina scene in TFA doesn’t serve as a way to throw together the main cast, it breaks them apart instead.  Rey is not the first half of the movie’s macguffin, and her capture doesn’t drive very much of the plot.  The attack on the superweapon is a mix of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, with its mixed ground/air assault and desperate timing.

For all that each individual scene — with perhaps the only exception being the very introduction capture of Poe/introduction of Finn — has an incredibly clear antecedent in the original trilogy, the movie’s overall flow is surprisingly difficult to anticipate.  And yet, the feeling of familiarity is incredibly strong when each scene calls back to a very specific part of the canon.

The Force Awakens would be a stronger movie if it could marry its deep respect for what people loved about the original movies with scenes that do not directly mirror those original movies.  It really does feel somewhat shopworn.

That said, after the disastrous prequels (which, for all their flaws, did really attempt to broaden the Star Wars experience and not simply mirror the original trilogy), perhaps episode VII needed to, first, comfort people.  Tell us “This is the Star Wars you loved, we get it.”  If episode VIII builds on TFA to bring new elements to the franchise, then I think the lack of originality on display in episode VII will be entirely forgivable.  If on the other hand the sequel is another remix of scenes from the original films, then, well, we already have the originals.  Why not just remake them with modern effects?

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