Notes On A Film – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens official poster

It has taken me three weeks to finally post my thoughts on this film – I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Friday 18 December; in the intervening time, I couldn’t bring myself to write them because (whisper it) I was disappointed.

*Ducks for cover and hides from internet for ever*

Qualifiers: I’m a Star Wars fan. I’m writing this while wearing one of my many Star Wars t-shirts (one of the Chunk ones); I watched the films in the cinema, recorded the films on video tape when they were shown on television and watched them regularly, watched the films again in cinema when they were rereleased, bought the VHS versions, bought the DVD versions, saw the prequels in the cinema, played the Star Wars Lego games over and over. The notification noise on my smartphone is the sound of the MSE-6 droid from the first film. I don’t have the toys or the novels or the comics, but my love for Star Wars is pretty strong.

The main problem I have with The Force Awakens is the familiarity with what has gone before. I was excited by the prospect of new canon in the Star Wars cinematic universe, so the last thing I wanted was to see the same things done again but slightly differently. When you can map story beats from the original sequel to this film, you lose any excitement about what is going to happen because you already know. If you know the outcome as soon as somebody walks onto a gantry, it removes the emotional impact completely. When my girlfriend and I left the cinema, it was with a sigh instead of an exclamation of exhilaration.

This is not to say that everything is bad – this is a good Star Wars film with lots of good things. The dialogue is better, and it’s funny (‘Oh really, you’re cold?’) and most importantly of all is the fact that there is diversity in a female lead and a black co-lead, so it’s no longer a solely white male fantasy. The acting is good and the new people are perfect – Daisy Ridley as Rey shines (and looks like Keira Knightley when she smiles, which is weird), John Boyega (who was great in Attack The Block) knocks it out of the park as the stormtrooper who doesn’t want to be one any more and joins the Resistance, Oscar Isaac exudes movie star charisma as the best pilot in the galaxy – and scenes where they are together crackle with chemistry and energy. It’s a delight to see Han, Chewie and Leia again – Harrison Ford in particular is fantastic as an older Han Solo. The fights in space look fantastic (and more dynamic than The Dambusters rerun in Star Wars). The reliance on real props and sets instead of CGI means that the film looks like Star Wars should. The film is well made (JJ Abrams might have missed the point of the Star Trek franchise, but he knows how to direct a film and make it look good), and sets up questions for future films, even if it does have more than a few plot holes along the way; this is better than any of the prequels by a long way.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens unofficial poster by Phil Noto

The reason I can’t love it and didn’t enjoy it is the repeating of events – George Lucas always talked about the way he treated the films like music so that themes would echo through all the films, which was why you get dialogue repeating, but he wasn’t remixing the first trilogy to create another film and claim it’s completely new. There were always going to be callbacks to the originals, but I didn’t expect something akin to a reboot with blatant nods (the chessboard, charges being mounted on columns to blow up something pivotal, a death star blowing up a planet). My girlfriend and I feel out of synch with the rest of the world, which has fallen deeply in love with this film, wondering why nobody has mentioned that this film is just the same thing over again. Perhaps that was the point – other Star Wars fans seem to be in ecstasy at having the same thing but newer, and the powers that be at Disney wanted to give people exactly what they wanted so that the toys and the advertising tie-ins and the merchandise keep on going.

I know I’m in the minority here (and at least I won’t get hate mail for writing something slightly negative, such as what happened to Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir), but it feels weird to be out of step with so many people about a franchise I love. If you enjoyed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, then I’m very happy for you; it saddens me to say that I didn’t enjoy it.

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