HomeMoviesThe Force Awakens - Why It's Not As Good as You Think

The Force Awakens – Why It’s Not As Good as You Think


I’ve spent a huge amount of time here talking about the characters and their myriad failures, because character has always been the soul of Star Wars. But The Force Awakens‘ problems run deeper than just bad character work. There is very little in this movie that actually means much of anything. That might sound like a pretentious complaint about the banality of a big Hollywood movie versus some obscure indie film or an Oscar-baiting prestige picture, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Most things mean something, regardless of the relative complexity of those meanings. The simple lessons in confidence and self-control in Back to the Future are no less meaningful than the complicated musings on life in Synecdoche, New York. The two simply have different goals, and neither is inherently better than the other. No, when I say that much of The Force Awakens doesn’t actually mean anything, I mean there is really nothing to the story beyond artifice and referencing the original trilogy.

Think of the breakneck pace of action scene after action scene after action scene in the first half of the movie. Things progress so rapidly, escaping from First Order troops on Jakku one second, avoiding weird alien creatures on Han’s ship the next, that we never get a moment to just calm down and let our characters interact and grow together. But that’s not just it. In A New Hope, most of the time Luke, Han, and Leia spend together is during the extended action sequence of escaping from the Death Star. It’s better paced, going from quiet moment to action scene to quiet moment instead of the pure adrenaline of The Force Awakens, but it’s still roughly the same idea. The difference is, in those scenes, the three are constantly bickering or insulting each other or working together or trying to come up with a plan. You can see how going through this stressful situation takes these three strangers and binds them together. There is no equivalent point to the scenes in The Force Awakens. Finn and Rey pretty much instantly like each other, and they’re both instantly awed by Han. Even if these scenes bothered to try and showcase the bonds between the characters, which they do not, I’m not sure what there would be to show.

This sort of thing happens over and over again throughout the movie. Consider the reveal of Starkiller base, as it blows up what is apparently the capital planet of the Republic (a fact bafflingly kept out of the movie). I’m sure everyone understood the intentional parallel to the destruction of Alderaan in the first movie, a powerful moment meant to convey the Empire’s strength and depth of evil. The problem is that, from a storytelling perspective, this scene doesn’t make any sense. First of all, unlike the Death Star, which was a key feature of the plot from the very beginning of the movie, Starkiller has absolutely nothing to do with anything that preceded it beyond being the obligatory setting for the finale. The destruction of Alderaan is a demonstration of the grave threat the movie implied the Death Star represented; the destruction of all those other planets is a non-sequitur, the equivalent of the movie nudging you in the side and going “Hey, remember Alderaan? That was pretty cool, right?”

What’s more, the act means nothing to any of our characters either. Yes, billions die, unimaginable horror, et cetera, et cetera, but this is a movie. You can’t just tell us a bunch of people died and expect us to be horrified or sad. You have to demonstrate the impact this action has within your universe. In A New Hope, this is accomplished through Leia: the tough princess, who has weathered every threat and torture she’s been subjected to without ever ceasing her constant string of insults towards her captors, finally folds when Tarkin threatens to destroy her beloved homeworld. And when he goes through with it anyway despite her acquiescence, she begs and pleads with him and then looks on in horror as her home is destroyed. Much like Luke with Obi-Wan’s death, the drama of the moment is enhanced by getting us to identify with Leia’s reaction to the tragedy, rather than just relying on our own feelings about it. But with Starkiller, we don’t know anyone on any of those planets, and more importantly, neither do any of the characters we’ve spent the rest of the movie with. Sure, they’re horrified in the abstract, but there’s no real sense of grief or loss from any of them. Some people are critical of A New Hope for quickly moving past what amounts to a staggering mass murder, but at least that movie allowed us to feel the horror of that act in the moment. In The Force Awakens, it amounts to little more than The Bad Thing The Bad Guys Do So We Can Have a Finale.

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Chris Diggins
Chris Digginshttps://alittleperspective.substack.com
"Lord" Chris Diggins, "Grand Prognosticator of ThePopBreak.com" is a staff writer and incorrigible layabout for The Pop Break. He usually reviews TV and movies, although he sometimes writes ludicrously long pieces of critical analysis and badgers the editors to publish it. He cannot be stopped.


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