Never have I seen such a sustained (and at times strained) and extensive marketing campaign for a film than I did in the build-up to the latest installment of the Star Wars saga. It is a film series that spans generations, spawns geekdoms and redefines genres. Yet a drawback to all the fanfare about the release has been a distinct unwillingness to criticise the film, at least in the mainstream press. As I watched the ‘new’ story unfold in front of me on the big screen, I was convinced I would return home and a quick google would provide me with a host of articles lambasting the Force Awakens, yet I was to be disappointed.
Surely I could not be alone? Perhaps a heady mixture of nostalgia for the original trilogy, and the gigantic marketing brainwashing has left the majority of usually ruthless critics and fans too passive and crooning to notice the glaring problems with this latest instalment? Or perhaps they’re so glad to be getting back to the good old Star Wars vibe they simply don’t care?
In what is perhaps the greatest paradox of the Star Wars universe, The Force Awakens, with near endless possibilities in front of it, manages to feel less original and creative than the much vindicated prequels, prequels that by their nature were constrained in their narrative and script, with us all knowing how they had to end.
Obviously wishing to give the look and feel of the original trilogy, and put some distance between the new film and the much lamented prequels (which, for the record, I don’t think were that bad) is understandable, but Disney has played it far too safe with this latest instalment. Having some of the icons of the originals such as Solo and Chewie would have been quite enough to cement this new film in the continuity and the spirit of the most cherished era of the franchise, but instead The Force Awakens opts for a storyline so reminiscent of A New Hope one could be forgiven for thinking they were watching a reboot as opposed to a sequel.
The film has already been lauded for having black and female leads, with the casts of the franchise’s previous films feeling distinctly male and pale (wookies not with-standing). This is obviously to its credit and yet the film is so jam packed with returning cast members or characters that are meant to replace old ones (think Maz Kanata and Yoda) that it feels as if Abrams lacked confidence in the new cast to carry the title. Even the overarching galaxy that the film takes place in seems to have changed little, the narrative barely progressing with the same essential rebels versus empire playing itself out on a cosmic scale, an insult to the trepidation and bated breath fans expended during the final scenes of the original trilogy, waiting to see how it would all end, trivialising in the process Vader’s sacrifice, 6 films in the making.
An unoriginal plot is not the film’s only flaw either. Perhaps one of the most frustrating moments for me was the fight scene, or lack thereof, just after Solo is reunited with the Millennium Falcon. This was shaping up to be a brilliant and amusing fight scene, with 3 different sides plus a few ferocious monsters thrown into the mix, and yet it’s over before you’ve blinked, a missed opportunity for what could have been a great scene. The villain, who in the trailers was looking set to rival Vader in power and on-screen presence, was prematurely unmasked and left disappointment rather than dread, in their wake once they were. Even the final confrontation at the end of the film felt lacklustre, offering viewers a somewhat disappointingly boring fight, with an unrealistic ending that even star-struck fans are scratching their heads about.
Yet the film is not without its good points. There is much in the start of this new trilogy that is intriguing, and this has already spawned a plethora of fan theory and speculation, such as Rey’s parentage and who the new, oversized sith lord really is. There is genuine humour, great special effects and some lovable new characters. But overall I left the cinema feeling like Abrams and the team had missed an opportunity. This was a chance to bring the franchise into a bold new era, constructing an exciting new trajectory that stood out from its predecessors and moved the franchise forward – perhaps throughout the new trilogy this will be achieved – Yet for now, it seems Disney have played it too safe and fallen back onto a tired old formula to safely ensure a good profit margin. Ironically, it feels as if the Force is still slumbering with this one.