STAR WARS: EPISODE VII — THE FORCE AWAKENS
The magic is gone from the “Star Wars” franchise. It has been for a very long time. The franchise started its decline when “Return of the Jedi” fell short of its predecessor (“The Empire Strikes Back”) way back in 1983. Every sequel or (ill conceived) prequel that has arrived since “The Empire Strikes Back” has possessed ever-less panache. If you think otherwise, go back and watch the films in the order that they were made.
You’ll never hear a Star Wars fan criticize George Lucas’s decision to abandon a linear approach to the storyline by inverting the series to break up the narrative into an abstract puzzle. Still, the overall effect is annoying to the point of distraction. No audience member should feel impelled to do a refresher course to figure out where the latest film of a franchise falls into its grand scheme. Faulty logic. This is one of a myriad of reasons that the James Bond franchise far outweighs Star Wars.
This latest installment of fandom’s favorite mongrel pet is a poorly paced MacGuffin-chase plot, ginned up with groan-inducing spoonful doses of pro-war imagery and its attendant rudimentary vocabulary.
“We blow up the big gun.” “Keep the target hard.”
I kid you not.
Such dumbed down dialogue flows like so much toxic water in Flint, Michigan throughout this movie.
Yes, yes, yes, and amen. This is war fantasy cinema propaganda for kids. Barf.
This film’s pro-war indoctrination warms kids up to the idea of killing faceless victims (as always the soulless storm troopers, who it’s hinted at might be an army of black slaves).
No one ever said “Star Wars” was highbrow entertainment. If you doubt that this film’s core genre is children’s cinema, just look for its corollary toy merchandising. The bloated, overworked, storyline is all bubblegum gobbledygook about a map that leads to Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, looking oddly similar to a late era Oliver Reed).
The franchise’s culturally malnourished formula is to blame. “The Force Awakens” has none of the political commentary of “The Legos Movie,” but it does possess a political agenda, however oblique, aimed at its intended pre-teen audience.
The narrative surface is shallow and brittle. It’s all recycled style with accidental war propaganda thrown in as subtextual substance. George Lucas might believe in socialist ideas in his private life, but that’s never on display in the Star Wars films. Such potential complexity is a moot point considering that co-writer/director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek — 2009) oversees this film’s production.
Rejiggering the same formulaic storyline results in an awkward cast of bland character prototypes reused though another sluggish round of children’s soap opera cinema parading as sci-fi. This is not the science fiction of social satire that Paul Verhoeven or Neil Blomkamp brings to the sci-fi genre.
The filmmakers here avoid an obvious opportunity for social subtext by not taking advantage of interracial romance between Daisy Ridley (as Rey, a junkyard salvager) and John Boyega (as Finn, an AWOL stormtrooper). Daisy Ridley is a spot-on cross between Emma Watson and a young Keira Knightley. That might sound like a compliment, but it’s not. If ham acting is your thing, then you’ll love watching Ridley mugging and pulling faces like a community theater actress playing to the last row.
What could have provided the movie with some much-needed heart merely gets blended through the Star Wars machine recipe. The writers go out of their way to renege on Finn’s potential as a renegade freedom fighter for the resistance. Finn describes himself as a member of the resistance when it suits him in the moment, but is quick to privately reveal that he holds no such allegiance. The character’s lack of integrity speaks to the film’s unwillingness to make any meaningful allegories, ever. The film’s ostensibly mindless viewer is invited to shut up and eat his or her freaking popcorn.
Sure the filmmakers make sure to tug at nostalgic heartstrings to induce a tear wherever possible, but that isn’t enough to redeem this undeniable snooze of a film. The movie could loose 25 minutes and still feel too long. As if that weren’t enough, this picture’s lame use of 3D is a final insult to make you wish you’d spent your money and time on “The Hateful Eight” instead.
Rated PG-13 135 mins. (C-) (One Star — out of five / no halves)