I normally don’t spend much time or thought on anticipating movies, but this was the most anticipated movie of the decade, and it managed to get me excited enough to go and see it in a cinema, another thing I normally don’t spend much time doing. I didn’t go to the 2359 screening on Wednesday, I didn’t buy my ticket three months in advance, but I consider going to see a film on the third day after the premiere a great show of enthusiasm.
It took some effort, but I made a point of avoiding the information, both speculative and real, about the seventh cinematic instalment of the biggest fantasy franchise in the universe. I didn’t want to create expectations. I wasn’t entirely successful – I watched the trailers and read a couple of articles (I even watched this, which ended up being more prophetic than I thought possible), so I ended up expecting the movie to not suck, and having some ideas about what would happen in it. As it turned out, my expectations were wrong. For the purposes of this post, I’ll leave the expectations about the plot (the ex-stormtrooper isn’t the one in whom the force awakens, for example) aside, and concentrate on, well, that other one.
It would be unfair to say that the Episode VII is an entirely bad film. It isn’t. Not when compared to the three prequels (not a very high bar to clear), anyway. But it still fails to reach the level of the first trilogy, which I find baffling, since, leaving aside their legendary status, those films aren’t exactly masterpieces of deep storytelling (but they do have solid stories). So what went wrong?
Let me quickly cover the things I liked first.
Finn. Considering the amount of space the ex-stormtrooper’s journey from an evil henchman to a good guy was (and could be) given, I think it was very well executed. Rey is a solid character, too, despite the sometimes odious hints about the mystery that’s been layered upon her. The actors are good (even the ones with not so good parts), the dialogue flows nicely, and the CGI isn’t overwhelming like in the prequels.
And now, the bad parts.
First, the First Order. What in the carrot’s name are they? Are they an heir-to-the-Empire government which controls space and is in the opposition to the New Republic? Judging by the fact that they’ve built a planet-sized weapon, and that there seems to be a population from which they recruit their soldiers, that could be the case. But if they are, why do they invariably behave like marauding foreign raiders wherever in the supposedly their own territory they go? When the Empire’s troops went somewhere, be it Tatooine or Bespin, they behaved like a government force – a brutal one, but still recognisably government. And if they are just something more akin to a terrorist organisation (after all, they seem to have only one capital ship, and, as I said, behave like raiders in their interactions with others), how did they manage to build their weapon planet?
Which brings me to the second thing. The Republic was apparently restored in the aftermath of the Battle of Endor. We’re told it has a strong military, one which the First Order is unable to take on by conventional means. Now, I could understand, providing that the First Order are some sort of state-like entity, that the New Republic, after years of fighting various wanna-be emperors who must’ve sprung up after Palpatine’s death, just isn’t ready for yet another open war with yet another imperial faction, preferring instead to give covert-ish support to “the Resistance”. But why would it allow the First Order to build such a potent superweapon, obviously aimed at the Republic’s head, without at least trying to destroy it? Did they not know about it? If intelligence services built on the legacy of the Rebellion couldn’t find out that a known enemy is building a planet-sized weapon, then one would think that getting shot at with it would be a dead giveaway, and would warrant a reaction. But no. Is the Republic even there?
Follows the superweapon itself. Alright, I get it. It’s fantasy (or maybe I could call this part sci-fi), it’s not real, it doesn’t have to be completely in line with the real physics. But really? A weapon which can instantaneously destroy planets in other solar systems? And you thought Han Solo doing the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs was fast… A weapon which is powered by completely sucking dry a sun, per shot? Leaving aside the problems arising from the relative sizes/masses of the below average planet and an average star, how do you move such a weapon around in order to reload it? Strains my credulity a bit too much.
Then we have the villains. The original Star Wars films gave us one of the strongest, most memorable movie villains ever in the form of Darth Vader. Even the prequels’ Palpatine is a proper villain. And what does The Force Awakens have? A holographic orc (or, should I say, Gollum?) who is never in any way explained, and a whiney, angsty kid who is explained, all right, though I wish he wasn’t. And does that general person whose main evil act is a ‘we were going for Hitler at Nuremberg but couldn’t quite make it’ speech even count? Probably not.
Then there’s the ending. Again, I get it, you have two more films lined up, it has to be a non-ending. But couldn’t you have at least awakened Finn?
And finally, why is everyone looking for Luke Skywaker? It’s not like he’s doing anything or serving any purpose… Or really did anything or served any purpose in the 30 years since the fall of the Empire. No, growing a beard doesn’t count.
Oh, and I almost forgot. An extraordinary feat, which deserves at least a short of its own, was done in the 30 years that’d passed between The Empire Strikes Back and The Force Awakens: someone went down into Bespin and retrieved Anakin’s/Luke’s light sabre that had miraculously survived being dropped into a gas giant. I wonder if they found Luke’s hand, too…