The Force Awakens, yawns, rolls over and goes back to sleep
Stop me if this sounds familiar.
Our story begins as the shadow of a star destroyer looms across the screen. An empire — universal in its influence, horrifying in its tyranny — steals critical information from a brave rebellion leader. At the last second, the rebellion leader snatches the plans from the dastardly imperial officers, and jettisons them off into space as the last hope of the rebellion spirals down and crashes on a bleak desert planet.
Meet our hero — young, swaddled in sand-colored clothing, and barely eking out a living. By the way, our protagonist (an orphan) also happens to be (against all odds) a Caucasian human. (Seriously, of all the aliens in the entire universe…)
Anyway, our heroic main character with a one-syllable first name, joined by Han Solo, Chewbacca, and a comic relief droid or two, gallivants across the galaxy, receives Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber from a wise old Force-sensitive mentor, gets in a massive fight in a cantina full of undesirables, develops nascent Force abilities, fights an evil dude in a helmet, and aids in the destruction of a planet-destroying superweapon while mourning the abrupt death of a grizzled older mentor. The threat has been temporarily put to rest, but a far more malicious evil lurks in the shadows: an ancient, sinister being ready to unleash the power of the dark side of the Force onto an unsuspecting galaxy of billions.
That’s the plot of Star Wars, Episode 7.
Or is it Episode 4?
A New Hope… no, sounds more like The Force Awakens.
Maybe they occupy some sort of weird quantum state. You know how certain particles exist in a sort of superposition of multiple states at the same time? And you can’t tell which position they’re in until you observe one of the particles? Like Schrodinger’s cat? Quantum indeterminacy or whatever it’s called.
I’m going to be completely honest: The Force Awakens disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong, I still thought it was a great movie. The cinematography was beautiful, it was a blast to see the Original Trilogy heavy-hitters back on-screen together again, and the action scenes — accompanied by John William’s beautiful score — still retained the nail-biting suspense and fluid sci-fi action we’ve come to love, but it still kind of felt… incomplete.
I didn’t know why at first. All I knew was that I walked out of the movie theater disappointed. I didn’t feel satisfied with what I had just watched — the movie was good, but it didn’t feel like a Star Wars movie.
Yeah, I know I began this piece with a huge expose on why Star Wars, Episode 7 is pretty much a carbon(ite) copy of Episode 4, but that, paradoxically, is precisely why The Force Awakens doesn’t truly feel like “Star Wars 7”. Honestly, that’s the only critique I had for the movie afterwards — I want to reemphasize this, but despite what this post may imply I really did like the movie — but it’s taken me a couple months to figure out why this one issue bugged me so much. I think I’m finally willing to give it a shot.
Star Wars is one of the best examples of the way films can transport us into an entirely new world.
If cinema exemplifies escapism, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better example than the original Star Wars trilogy. The meticulously designed spaceships and beautifully realized landscapes of A New Hope were so well crafted, we couldn’t help but be transported out of our seats, totally immersed in that enchanting galaxy far, far away. We were exploring a new universe for the very first time, not only in terms of gorgeous visual set pieces, but in spirit as well. Adventure dominated the spirit of the original Star Wars.
We felt compelled to join Luke Skywalker not only because of his excellent characterization (say what you will about the prequel trilogy, but Lucas’ script for A New Hope was damn good) but also because he was, as much as we were, discovering the universe for the first time. There was a fresh sense of exploration — an entire galaxy lay beyond the horizon. Accompanied by quirky, deeply complex characters, we dived into the unknown.
That’s why we loved the original Star Wars movies. That sense of adventure, of exploring the unexplored. That sense of adventure which so clearly defines the soul of the Star Wars movies is also why The Force Awakens doesn’t feel like the next chapter in the Star Wars epic.
Yeah, we have Finn, and yeah, Han Solo plays the mentor this time around, and yeah, (insert minute distinction here), but the similarities between The Force Awakens and A New Hope are undeniable. You could nitpick about differences between the two movies as much as you want (I love Finn as much as the next guy) but come on.
A specific example might be helpful. Visually, the world of The Force Awakens doesn’t feel terribly new. You’ve got your standard desert planet (Tatooine/Jakku), your forested rebel base (Yavin 4’s moon/Takodana), even your massive metal space station (Death Star/Starkiller Base). Visual similarities alone detract from the whole experience — rehashing the same old environments over and over again loses a core component of the appeal of science fiction: leaving the familiar confines of our earth for a while to explore uniquely fascinating universes bursting with imagination.
More generally, these visual similarities underpin the entire reason why I can’t fully recommend Star Wars 7. You aren’t as invested in the fates of the characters because you’ve seen them before. The story isn’t nearly as compelling or tense because you’ve seen it before.
It’s true that — due to the sheer amount of stories humankind has collectively dreamt up — it’s almost impossible to make a film that doesn’t at least share some part of its premise from a previous work. However, when Star Wars 7 echoes so many of the same beats as its original predecessor it’s impossible to overlook these similarities because the degree of the similarities matter — and that loses the ethos of Star Wars itself. It loses that critical sense of adventure and exploration. We’re embarking on yet another grand old quest into the unknown but it’s nowhere near as compelling because we already have a sneaking suspicion we know exactly how it’s going to end.
Hopefully, future films in the new trilogy (is that what they’re calling it? Correct me if I’m wrong) will take the series into an entirely new direction, but for now the newest film is a bit of a letdown. I definitely appreciated the trip down memory lane and the nostalgia invoked by the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga, but if you want a cheesy one-liner that encapsulates the general thesis of this post, it’s the following:
We asked for another Star Wars movie but got a remake instead.
(that being said I’ve completely convinced myself Rogue One’s gonna be fuckin amazing)