Star Wars Episode VII: Wake up the Force

Just so you know, I waited until my second viewing of TFA before I began this. I had hoped that a second viewing would change my mind, but no, it’s only made me more angry. As a matter of fact, I’m getting angrier. Like a chicken getting drier after its been taken out of the oven, I’m getting progressively more sour about that film while the whole world is describing it as some sort of success. And success is really the point here because, I’ll admit, what I wanted from TFA was probably a bit different from what ‘the whole world’ wanted, so perhaps we can all agree to disagree, shake hands, and walk away. Bollocks.
I’ll concede, TFA was a good film, it was a sound instance of a well-tested formula: well-acted, well made, well delivered, and more than watchable. But it was an unadulterated failure for one simple reason: it called itself Star Wars: Episode VII, and it wasn’t. If a spinoff had been made, as indeed there are in the works, then I would have hopped along to the cinema and watched me a Sci-Fi flick set in a universe I know and love, with all the loud noises, bright lights, and snappy dialogue so common to action movies of the past few years. But this was meant to be the next instalment of possibly the most famous and well-loved series ever made. A series that almost everyone knows the elements of, which is referenced in daily colloquialisms, and which has characters more cult than Jesus fucking Christ.

giphy

TFA assumed none of this. We were taking baby steps through a world we already knew. The story presumed absolutely no knowledge of the past films, and developed no themes, concepts, or characters. The 12 year old watching TFA as their first ever SW instalment was in just about as good a position as a seasoned fan. None of the subtleties in the characters or their relationships were developed; nor was our understanding of the wonderfully mystical elements of the SW universe; and nor were any of the intricacies of the plot. What we got was a reboot.
I’ve heard it said that TFA was a fan-pleaser, but I saw nothing of substance for fans anywhere on show. Sure, when Han smiles at the thought of Luke, or when C-3PO gets in the way of his nostalgic moment with Leia, or when we see the bent and broken helmet of Darth Vader, having seen the past films adds a little something to those moments, but not very much, and certainly not enough to justify giving this film the title of the Episode VII that has been imagined and dreamed of by fans for God-knows-how-many years. For the most part, material for fans consisted of a few pieces of memorabilia, a few in-jokes, a few moments of satisfaction when we see the characters we know and love – but none of this added anything of substance to the experience. None of it answered questions we might have had, none of it built upon the story we all know, and none of it refined our understanding of the galaxy far, far away.
And this leads us to a bizarre decision made by the writers: the film skips over and converts into backstory events that would have formed a much better plot. We miss out on the formation of the New Republic, on Luke’s new Jedi Academy, on Ben’s treachery and on the rise of Snoke and the First Order. Just imagine what this film could have been: the complexities that emerge after the destruction of the Empire and the struggle for a new order; Luke, guided by the spirits of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Anakin, forging a phoenix out of the ashes of the destroyed Jedi culture alongside Snoke’s rise to power from the rubble of Palpatine’s fallen empire; Ben’s seduction by the Dark Side and its toll on Han and Leia, and the culminating moment between Luke and his nephew as he becomes Kylo Ren before the spirits of the great past Jedi looking on in despair. THAT would have been one hell of a film. It didn’t even have to follow on as directly as all that, and in a sense I like that the back story left so much room for imagination, but it is odd that such rich material was pushed out of the plot frame to make room for a rehash of A New Hope.

And it’s not like the frivolousness of TFA is at all characteristic to SW – let’s not forget, the series has contained some pretty heavy themes up to this point. Cut through the abominable script, the questionable acting, and the character design spawned from an acid trip gone weird, and we’re in sci-fi/fantasy heaven with the tale of a corrupted messiah and his redemption at the hands of his son. Anakin is born of the Force itself, an immaculate conception much like the Christian messiah, sent by the Force having been unbalanced for thousands of years since the emergence of the Dark Side and after having witnessed the Jedi beat back the Sith time after time to the point of near-oblivion to finish the job and end the galactic war. ‘The Force’, this fundamental substance of reality, the crystalline essence of all the world religions audaciously refined by George Lucas into a fictional deity, bestows upon its followers a child to aid them in the hour they are unaware is their darkest, and watches on powerlessly as its very own corrupted form, which has always clouded its omniscience, seduces the child and leads him, through a corruption of the very love that ought to guide him to the joyful truth of this fundament, instead to the utmost suffering and darkness. The child, becoming a man, destroys the ways of those who fostered him in the light and uses his exceptional power, bestowed upon him by the quintessence of life itself, to bring horror and death to the world. It is only once this fallen messiah has attained his pinnacle under his ruiner and tutor in the ways of the corruption of this pervasive deity that it sends forth his only son to act as his salvation and to return him to the light in death. The son, charged with the destruction of his own father as his ultimate test, and guided by the spirits of the fallen adherents to the deity which strives for the balance of the world, returns his father to their embrace and represents the new hope for the renaissance of the holy order of those devoted to the deity which has now attained its long-sought balance.

giphy (1)

What a story it is, and how far we are from your standard Hollywood blockbuster series. Overtly religious themes, metaphysical audacity, an unabashed morality tale of the most epic proportions, and almost cringingly bare-faced references to freedom and tyranny, democracy and terror, humility and arrogance, love and fear – it’s truly something of a totally different character to anything else in that league of popularity. But where was all this in TFA? The title implied it would continue the tale of this glorious battle between light and dark, and yet it watched just like any old Marvel film. I sat there as the opening title came up quite literally with a tear in my eye, and then within five minutes I’m seeing Oscar Isaacs’ character wise-cracking in the face of Kylo Ren – and then a massacre – and then some more jokes… Sorry, what? As much as I love the Robert Downey Jr. School of Jokery, it has no place in this film.
The film was confused. It wanted to develop the story, but it also wanted to bring young fresh faces that kids could relate to; it wanted to explore the grim face of the intergalactic war that the film is set in and the mystical concepts of the series, but it also wanted to set up a lame love story to win the hearts of teenagers; it wanted to be a part of the SW series, but it also wanted to stand alone. The result was a bizarre rehash of Episode IV, and what one might very politely call ‘homages’ to the first SW film were in fact just quite embarrassing thefts: Obi-Wan/Han-Solo, guide of the orphaned main character Luke/Rey, who we find a poor farmer/scavenger on the desert planet Tattooine/Jakku, is killed by the main nemesis Darth Vader/Kylo Ren, the past student/son of the deceased, in front of the main character alongside their accomplice and love interest Leia/Finn while disabling a tractor beam/shield, motivating the main character to take up arms against the empire/New Order and get into lightsabers, all while the greatest weapon in the history of the galaxy/the greatest weapon in the history of the galaxy is destroyed by the rebellion/resistance. How on earth do these people look themselves in the mirror? It would be like Steven Spielberg making a new instalment of Jurassic Park where the plot is that a new version of Jurassic Park has been built and there’s a new bigger dinosaur who goes off the map and starts eating people… Oh… Wait…
To summarise, I hated it: it yielded not one single thing to make it worthy of its place in the series, and was nothing more than a drop in the bucket of a totally saturated market of near-identical films. On the plus side, I had been planning to write my first review for a long, long time but I suppose I needed something to spur me on. It’s a shame it couldn’t have been something I liked, but in the end I think that TFA has done for me what Hume did for Kant and woken me from my (not-too) dogmatic slumber and broken my (quite loud) silence. And if you think that the comparison I just made between myself and Emmanuel Kant is ridiculous, and that there’s really no congruence between the two, that the latter has really nothing at all to do with the former, then you know just how I feel when I consider that The Force Awakens was the only Star Wars: Episode VII we’re ever going to get.

Tom Swaine-Jameson (follow him on his website or on his facebook page)

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