Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review-Ish!
By now you’ve even seen the film, or are studiously avoiding all spoilers in (very) long-awaited anticipation. Either way, you’ll have noticed the increased numbers of reviews and criticism popping up since Christmas as more of us have time to process the whole of the experience. With this review, we’re going to do it a little differently…
Despite overwhelmingly positive responses, and incredible box-office performance to match, the criticisms are becoming more and more virulent. Amidst widespread praise, articles like “40 Problems with The New Star Wars” is going to both stick out and garner attention.
This piece, to break with convention, isn’t really going to be a review (although, there will be some spoilers). Instead, I’m going to run through the five most common criticisms that you’re likely to hear and explain why really it’s just fine. Honestly, it’s just fine. Really. Onwards!
1. Plot Repeating, or It’s A Rehash!
Perhaps the most common critical claim you’ll see is that Force Awakens is really just a rehash of the original trilogy. There are plenty of familiar characters (Han Solo appears in some of the earliest marketing), scenarios and even scenery – Sand planet, snow planet, forest planet and so on. The plot lines are almost identical and some even a few shots have been recreated. They even fly through a trench on something resembling a Battle Station. It’s just lots and lots of the same with little originality.
Because it’s the start of a new trilogy in the wake of Episodes I – III which were panned by fans and critics. To make the new planned trilogy successful they need to establish it first by using the familiar. Kids new to the series aren’t going to notice – it’s entirely done for fan benefit, to get them on side with a film they’ll find comfortable rather than surprising. All New Stuff will be coming in with the next few films, particularly after the massive success of this one. The Force Awakens is much more of a trust exercise (demonstrating the importance of the Star Wars fan communities to the film’s creators and producers). They’re playing safe because they absolutely had to for this film – anything too ‘out there’ would of just seen huge amounts of backlash.
2. All Those References!
References to the older films, particularly tongue-in-cheek mentions or lines, bog the plot down and stop the film from moving forward into new areas. They’re there solely to appease the fan-boys rather than actually adding anything to the movie. The references just bog down the Force Awakens, stalling the pacing and adding very little at all.
Because it’s a trust exercise as mentioned above. The kids aren’t going to get the references, and not getting them won’t make the film any more or less enjoyable for them. The references are (once again) to reassure the adults that the original trilogy has not been completely thrown out of the window again. The creators understand the love for the originals, and are inevitably going to throw in some less-than-obscure references in the new one. Think of them less as fan-boy references and more nods to the history of the franchise and the reason that these films are considered special.
3. Plot Holes!
There are a large number of plot holes – events occurring without apparent reason and little set up. Alternatively, events and characters a set up and then conveniently ignored for the rest of the film (see point 4). There’s very little “why”, replaced with lots and lots of action scene leading into action scene leading into action scene. The plot holes point to the lack of depth.
Because it’s a new trilogy, and planned as a trilogy. Whilst there is a stand-alone story, they also have to write on the basis that it is just part one of a much bigger plot. Some of the plot holes pointed out are entirely relevant, however many are just where “a thing” hasn’t been explained yet. Either it’s obviously something that will be built upon in the following films or it will never be explained – think back to the original trilogy, there’s plenty of this kind of thing happening there too, as is the case for most modern film trilogies. Plot holes are not the end of the world, and give the writers room to breathe in coming films – and literally everything has them.
4. Character Screentime vs. Apparent Importance.
Captain Phasma, Poe Dameron, Maz Kanata. Introduced as incredibly important in the advertising and their early scenes, but just generally abandoned after their opening scenes. Admittedly Poe does re-appear, but Phasma and Maz are introduced for a few brief scenes and then vanished for the rest of the film. Poe is missing for the majority of the film, although has more appearances than the other two. Despite their set up and the importance of the scenes Phasma and Maz participate in, they are abandoned all too quickly and we can only guess what happens to them. It’s terrible writing, and terribly frustrating.
Because roles will be further expanded upon later in the trilogy. The Force Awakens is the opening chapter in a multi-part story, and the characters used needed to be introduced at this stage to establish their presence. They might not of seen much screen time at all, or had a particularly large impact, but their introduction now cuts down on the fluff in the coming films. If you think the original trilogy didn’t do this, see Jabba the Hutt in Episode IV – introduced early for story lines much later on.
5. Really Clever Characters
This is a really peculiar criticism, but still one that comes up a lot; Everyone can suddenly do too much – pilot the Millennium Falcon, fight capably with lightsabers, sudden force powers and so on. There is no explanation as to where it all comes from, or how they can possibly achieve these things and (bar one or two incidents) the film in no way dwells on this fact. The main characters can immediately do anything that’s necessary at that point in the film. Need to escape? Excellent, now you can fly the Falcon – a ship you’ve never even been in. Need a cool hand-to-hand combat scene? Excellent, now you can use a lightsaber. Perhaps we as viewers are assuming these actions are a lot more complicated than they actually are in-universe. Maybe all spaceships are somewhat similar in control design. But, as it stands, all we get are apparently perfect characters without any apparent flaws which is incredibly boring.
Because it’s a sci-fi film, for one. Characters can do that. Second, their origins are not explained in the film – we have no idea what the characters are capable of until we see them do it, so technically anything is within the realms of possibility. On top of that, the Star Wars franchise has a history of giving its’ main characters sudden abilities. They are capable of doing whatever the narrative requires them to do – this is in no way new for the series. If all this isn’t entirely convincing, I’d suggest that it’s obvious from the start that the new characters (particularly Rey and Fin) are shown as being heavily influenced by the Force from the beginning – the same Force that allows Luke Skywalker to accurately predict the specific time and angle at which to fire a torpedo and blow up the Death Star. Again, it’s within the realms of possibility based on what the film’s universe has allowed before.
So, there are five fairly strong criticisms – and honestly I agree with some of them quite a lot. But the reasons presented are just as compelling for me, and hopefully you too. Either way, just sit back and enjoy the incredible spectacle of the thing!