If you haven’t seen Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens yet then please leave now. Assuming that you haven’t seen it and you still intend to, that is. What follows is positively spoilertastic, and I don’t want your ruined Christmases on my conscience. If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to then feel free to stay, though it is unlikely that you will make it through this paragraph without nodding off if you are going to be that much of a philistine about it.
Still with me? Then we’ll crack on. We’ll start on the bombshell that is the news that I am that one, the only person in a sea of galaxies far, far away who was not overly impressed by The Force Awakens. As someone said recently, the Force could have done with five more minutes. Everything I had read beforehand, and most of what I have read since, has seen nothing but praise heaped upon the seventh instalment of the Star Wars saga so what could I, a self-confessed Star Wars devotee, possibly have to complain about?
Basically, The Force Awakens is a remake or rather an amalgamation of previous episodes, in particular IV and V, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The plot contains scarcely anything in the way of original thought to the point where it insults your intelligence. Set some thirty or so years after Return Of The Jedi (which is handy because it is some thirty or so years since Return Of The Jedi), The Force Awakens finds us in a universe controlled by fear by the First Order, who let’s be clear are not the Empire. Well they are a bit like the Empire, but not the Empire. The Stormtroopers have changed anyway. Forget everything those miserable prequels told you about clones with Kiwi accents, Stormtroopers in this day and age are snatched from their families at birth and brought up to kill anyone who finds First Order rule disagreeable.
One such unfortunate is the man who soon comes to be known as Finn (John Boyega), whose insider knowledge will come in very handy once he’s freed imprisoned pilot Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac) from the clutches of Darth Vader tribute act Kylo Ren. Ren is played admittedly with a nice mixture of menace and vulnerability by Adam Driver. So enamoured is Ren with the redeemed Dark Lord that he insists on wearing a mask that he has no obvious need for, and on impersonating James Earl Jones’ vocal talents. Amusingly he is prone to temper tantrums that Vader would have found wholly undignified, though not quite as undignified as the flagrant recycling of a classic Star Wars plot twist with which Ren's origins are established. At this point Ren lost some if not all credibility for me, and it was all I could do not to leap up in the cinema and shout ‘noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ as Star Wars characters are wont to do. Quite why Ren wants to use the dark side to emulate a man who last we heard had been dragged back into the light is not yet explained. Maybe in Episode VIII....Ren also has to battle Domnhall Gleeson's shouty General Hux for the attentions of the supreme leader and suspiciously Palpatinian Snoke, a dynamic which I found strangely odd. Always two there are, Yoda once told me, a master and an apprentice. Here there appears to be three, and it is not clear what Hux is for other than to shout, shout and shout again in a manner which deliberately evokes images of Hitler and his friends.
At that point I was already struggling with my own dark side as I decided whether or not to allow the film’s other significant plot set-up to stand, or whether to just get up and leave. But this is Star Wars and so I had to stay. No matter how much we Star Wars fans are suffering through another Star Wars foul-up, we’re staying and we’re probably coming back just to make sure that the whole affair is as much of a travesty as we think it is. I’m planning a second viewing as I write. Back to the plot, there’s a cute comedy droid beeping around on a sandy planet, annoying people. But he has important information which only he can access. Now where have we seen this before? But before you can say ‘help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope’ it is revealed that the droid, BB-8, has a map to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker who is still, after all these years, the last remaining Jedi Knight. Apparently he had been training some others, but somewhere along the line it had all gone At-At’s up so he just got off, like an inter-galactic Reggie Perrin. Mark Hamill’s contribution to The Force Awakens is significant in terms of where the story might be heading, but in terms of actual time and effort it only just outweighs my own.
BB-8 is not just there for comedy and the re-telling of old tales, mind. He’s used quite well as a comic device also, and to help introduce the film’s female action hero. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is just a mere scavenger on a planet called Jakku when BB-8 insists on following her around and well…….who can resist a cute comedy droid that knows where Luke Skywalker is? This brings Rey together with Finn (remember him?) and in turn that leads to the re-introduction to the Star Wars universe of Harrison Ford, Peter Mayhew and Carrie Fisher, reprising their original trilogy roles as Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia Organa respectively. Ford and Mayhew provide the film’s best comedy moments and I will concede the view of most others that their double act outshines any of the clunkingly awful attempts at humour in the prequels. We’re back in original trilogy territory here and refreshingly it feels like a continuation rather than a re-hashing. Excellent performances from Boyega and Ridley add to the chemistry between the whole group. But alas it does not last as the need to move the plot along takes over, and the inability to come up with a new idea paralyses the whole project.
Which brings us to the spew-chuckingly dismal denouement. The First Order may not be the Empire, but they have a very similar view of how to rule a universe and eliminate a rebellion. What you do is you build a huge space station which has the power to destroy whole planets. But crucially what you must also do is neglect to attend to one small flaw in the system which will allow a fleet of X-Wing pilots to swoop in and shoot the shit out of the weak-spot. Of course, you will need to lower the deflector shields on the thing before you can send in the pilots. All that is missing are the fucking Ewoks! The X-Wingers are led of course by the returning Po. He had been feared dead after crash-landing a stolen First Order spacecraft from which Finn escaped (you can’t call it Imperial, I wouldn’t have thought) but here he is rocking up for the glory, a Han Solo for a new generation.
If the original trilogy had never been made then The Force Awakens would have been a highly convincing, thrilling ride, beautifully setting up its inevitable sequels where the destinies of Rey, Finn and the others might slowly unfold. But the awful truth is that we have been here before, twice in some instances. If this is going to convince people that this is how you go about continuing the Star Wars saga, then we could be using the same plot devices for generations, to the point where the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of a Sith Lord wakes up one morning feeling a little bit like I used to on a Tuesday when I was unemployed and all of a sudden you have a synopsis for Episode XXVIII.
Maybe it will be better second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) time around.......