Probably spoilers ahead. Obviously.

After over a year of hyperbolic promotion, a decade since the last one and 32 years since ‘the last good one’, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released two weeks ago. The product of an industry titan acquiring a cultural juggernaut, and made by hundreds of people who had grown up in a world forever changed by the series, this seventh live-action feature instalment could only fail to please, surely? That certainly seems not to be the case, as it breaks into various nations’ all-time box office charts and sits comfortably with a 91% audience and 94% critic ‘fresh’ rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Despite all this though, The Force Awakens borders on an embarrassment, failing the fans on almost every possible front.

As a follow up to the original trilogy, what’s most astonishing is how the public have taken to it – it has become a cliché and is treated with mocking derision when a sequel merely takes the original and goes one louder, yet here we are. Remember the original trilogy? That farm boy who didn’t fit in? Now we have two people who don’t. Remember that whole ‘going to and escaping from an Imperial installation’ sequence? Now we have two. Remember that planet-destroying moon-sized weapon? Now we have a star system-destroying planet-sized weapon. Bigger bigger bigger, but always the same.

TFA - P1

Remember when the falcon flips over 180 degrees so Finn’s locked weapon is facing the right way to destroy the pursuing enemy? That was good wasn’t it? It was good in Firefly, too, over a decade ago. Generally I have no qualm with references, homages, cribbing and outright ripping off. Borrowing, adapting and stealing are the sole foundational blocks of creativity. But when the rest of the film is simply a restructuring of the original trilogy, those elements which would in something more inspired serve as charming grace notes instead work to highlight how much this thing is going through the motions, only adding something new when borrowing from those very works Star Wars ushered in and inspired.

The only significant difference really is a distinct lack of wonder in this world, especially galling considering the obsession with just scaling up the content. There is utter dispassion both from its universe populace and subsequently the audience. “Here we are again”, the film seems to say, with all the inevitability and exhaustion that phrasing suggests. Any time there’s scale, grandeur, monstrous force, the filmmakers try their damnedest to cut it down – sometime literally, in this case Snokes’ mammoth size being revealed as a hologram, just after setting him up as a mysterious and almighty force. Other times potential moments of wonder are drowned at birth with glib in-jokes.

TFA - P2

Instead what we have is nihilism-lite, a cynical depiction of a universe under yet another totalitarian regime, but even that lacks the courage of its convictions. We could perhaps, under the surface of what is essentially a rollicking screwball adventure, have a couple of observations about the galactic civil war beyond ‘pew pew pew’, ‘run away’. But why would we want that? It’s not like the central conflict is important at all, not like it’s there in the title or anything.

As Jonathan Rosenbaum has argued before me, Star Wars is the most bracingly bloodless depiction of genocide one is liable to find. Whole nations are wiped out, children are slaughtered and the most we get is lip service. Yes it’s a kid friendly film (arguably its primary demographic), but that’s not an excuse. Children aren’t stupid, and some of the most popular franchises with young audiences engage unsentimentally with the personal impact and insidious politics of war – Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and the Narnia series are all major examples with immense fan bases.

TFA - P3

At this point you would no doubt try to hurl counter examples from TFA at me. But when the most significant moment of the film occurred, an iconic character’s death, it just had not been earned. It came as a consequence of a long and troubled relationship that we had not been privy to; it was merely inadequately exposited to us, one of the main emotional arcs the film was leaning on. We had arrived to the party as everyone was going home. Oh well then, the emotion fell to the new characters, a serviceable if uninspired pair.

As for succeeding the prequel trilogy? After the wide leaps into unknown territory George Lucas took the franchise, this is just playing it as safe as one possibly could, save for rerunning A New Hope under a different name. Oh wait.

TFA - P4

Of course your mileage with the prequels may vary depending on your tolerance for amphibious space rabbits going from stepping in poo to accidentally leading a senate into the hands of the Empire but you can’t deny that while misunderstanding the desires of his fans (which he was under no obligation to honour) Lucas was taking risks. Expanding the universe and doing so laterally, not just making the moon-sized gun into a planet-sized gun.

So, next to the prequels, The Force Awakens is lightweight and blinkered. This wouldn’t be fatal were it not for the fact it wasn’t exploring new material with its narrow focus, but sticking to well-worn ground. Frankly, The Force Awakens does the fans a great disservice by believing this is all it should take to please them. But then, people aren’t feeling insulted by it. In fact they’re falling over themselves to give Disney its hard-earned money. So maybe it’s all the fans deserve.

Tom Watchorn

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Image Sourced from ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

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  1. James Pannozzi
    April 19, 2016 at 12:05 — Reply

    Dear Tom:

    NO ! You are NOT the only one. While I remain pleased at the two brilliant young actors, playing the roles of Rae and Fin, brought to our attention by J. J. Abrams, I watched in stunned frustration at the complete failure of the Star Wars writers and producers to produce a coherent movie. It was an experience, a pretension, a great special effects effort….but NOT what we came to see, a movie.

    As I sat there watching the movie come to an end, in complete astonishment, as a major character finally appears for a full minute or two with NO dialogue, I realized that I had been had, that I had essentially just been treated to a TWO HOUR LONG COMMERCIAL for the NEXT movie in the sequence. I couldn’t believe that Abrams, who had done a positively brilliant job with the Star Trek movies, could be reduced to participating in this stunt.

    A moronic plot, a bad guy who has mastered the basics of the force but throws temper tantrums like a five year old and stomps around as though his shoes and costume are too heavy ? Really ? A major character, Han Solo, killed by his son, who has gone “bad” ? Really ?

    Princess Leia, the elegant revolutionary and fighter, now curiously quiescent and passive, dressed like a mechanic and estranged from Han ? Really ?

    Hiding major actors under makeup, and giving them roles completely uncharacteristic for them, like the parts dealer who pays Rae for her scavenged items ? Really ?

    A great many people liked the movie so I watched again, and again and I started to like it a bit more. The movie hints at things without developing them, but the fact remains that I get the absurd feeling that I should be lecturing Abrams, a guy who knows more about making films in his sleep than I ever would awake, because somewhere along the line, somehow, he got convinced into associating his good name with this mess and he’s going to have a hard time living it down. Was it Disney putting pressure on Abrams to develop the toy and other franchises ? Was it the guy who had long since gone over to the STUPID side of the Force, Lucas, who apparently never could reproduce the success of the first movie and I’m NOT talking about commercial success ?

    I suspect they think that we can’t wait for the next one.
    They may be in for an unpleasant surprise on that idea.

    We’ve waited 40 years for a sequel to the original trilogy.

    We’re still waiting.

  2. PierreOrdinaire
    April 19, 2016 at 14:33 — Reply

    I couldn’t agree with you more. When I saw the X-fighters flying on a trench to go hit the one sensitive point of the worlds’ destroying weapon, I thought “This is BS”. Total lack of imagination.

  3. Jeff T
    April 19, 2016 at 15:17 — Reply

    Great review. You are not the only one with these views.

  4. Murf
    April 19, 2016 at 15:42 — Reply

    So you’re defending the pre-trilogy and bashing The Force Awakens because its a re-hashed tribute to the actual good movies? yep you are the only one that thinks this good job. Let me guess you’re a millennial…and let me guess again you go to every Marvel movie in theatres because every hero is “original”. So everyone is entitled to their own opinion…and this is literally your own opinion because nobody agrees with you, rarely do critics and fans agree, they do here. maybe get job in photography i here this no wrong in art.

  5. Chris
    April 19, 2016 at 16:28 — Reply

    This article is silly. The movie was created as a sequel to a series that has always been a very simple battle between good and evil. Sure Force Awakens was similar to A New Hope, but that is because that is what everybody asked for. When Lucas released the prequel trilogies everyone was angry that Star Wars had changed and was too much about politics, midichlorians, and what not. Then the new Star Wars comes out everyone enjoys it because it was like the old ones, fun and not all about politics, midichlorians, and what not, but with a new touch. Sure there are problems with the movie. That however does not excuse the recent circle jerk that has been going around the internet of hating on the new trilogy. I know the movie is not exactly intellectual like Inception or deep and emotional like you were hoping, but that is not what Star Wars was ever about. It has always been bad guy does bad, good guy tries to stop bad guy.

    In the end get off your high horse and enjoy a good movie.

  6. Allen McCready
    April 19, 2016 at 16:51 — Reply

    Yep! You are the only one. Excellent movie. 3 thumbs up! 4.5 stars. I just hope Harrison Ford is somehow resurrected to return in future episodes, perhaps by borrowing the sarcophagus, or ascension as used in Stargate SG-1. Never mind the “Clark Kent’s glasses” aspect where everyone somehow speaks U.S. without even an English accent, again as used in Stargate SG-1.

  7. Jag
    April 19, 2016 at 16:55 — Reply

    As a devoted fan of Star Wars, I was supremely disappointed to hear that the 30 years of carefully crafted and managed Star Wars Extended Universe (books, comics, games) were to be discarded and now called “legends” to allow cinematic writers to craft a new story without having to bother with the previously established stories. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that the writers would give us an awesome story given this freedom. Then wTFA was released. The decision to trash 30 years of SW canon for essentially a rehash of Eps 4 to introduce SW to a new generation… a generation that NEEDED to have seen Eps 4 to attempt to understand the holes in the plot you could pilot a Death Ball/Planet through. To make sense of the story, a real fan has to plunge into the new SW canon in books to piece together a complex story, which in the end doesn’t make much more sense. Even within the SW “rules” of the universe, you can’t fly a ship in hyperspace into a gravity well, so Han’s trick infiltrating the Death Ball should not of worked. The movie did not take the time to explain how the Death Ball’s weapon could shoot instantaneously to other worlds, while ships still had to plod along at light speed through hyperspace… I really wanted to like this movie. I watched wTFA 3 times in the theater and only enjoyed parts of it when I stopped trying to make sense of things. SW was known for making sense and having continuity between the movies and the Extended Universe (unlike Marvel and DC franchises). Now that’s gone because it was convenient and replaced with a bunch of story that doesn’t make much sense.

  8. Daniel Struve
    April 19, 2016 at 17:05 — Reply

    I totally agree with you on this but doesn’t seem to matter; everyone else loves it. The Disney stock price doesn’t move though.

  9. TJ Sheridan
    April 19, 2016 at 18:12 — Reply

    It’s so good to finally see somebody writing the truth about this film. I looked so forward to this film, and when it finally hit, I was just as disappointed as I was with the nonsensical prequels. In fact, I actually like the prequels better, because at least there was original content. TFA is beautiful, there is no doubt, but there was nothing new, nothing to fire my imagination the way the original trilogy did. I left the theater fuming mad. And when I saw the numbers, how much money it made, I realized I wasn’t in the mainstream, that others genuinely loved the “rehashed everything”.

    The best thing that this film did was jump-start the universe again. It made enough money that they’ll feel justified in making a lot more like it. But by putting new directors in the drivers seat on the upcoming films, we will hopefully get more innovation and creativity in the context of stories that are intimate and fresh. I’m hopeful for the future of the Star Wars Universe, despite how disappointed I was in TFA.

    The first thing I did when I got home after watching TFA was put Serenity into my bluray player and enjoy a really good sci-fi drama. I’d give anything to have the Firefly universe rebooted.

  10. Rodrigo
    June 2, 2016 at 00:44 — Reply

    Trust me you’re not the only one, The Force Awakens is full of special effects for the kids period. The story lacks of originality and basically I felt robbed after watching it. Somehow I feel like Disney exploided my nostalgia to earn a few dollars.

  11. van price
    June 9, 2016 at 22:30 — Reply

    Just like M.J. said in his song, YOU ARE NOT ALONE failure failure big time the Force Awakens was more on the Mel brooks Space Ball movie Disney should stick to movies like Swiss Family Robinson it was a cheap and awful movie in my opinion I went 2 see ALL of the other Star Wars movies multiple times the FORCE Awakens ONCE IS ENOUGH PERIOD, I have nothing against young ACTORS but were they all from high school musical and the villain was a joke the reason the Force Awakens made so much money is because STAR WARS FANS expected great movies like from the past, the next star wars movie will take a Huge drop in ticket sales……………….

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