More than 30 years after the release of the first title, the Star Wars franchise has finally provided a sequel to the original trilogy storyline. Because of the extensive time since we last heard about Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa, interest in this sequel has driven the internet into a frenzy of leaked images and plotlines and trailers for more than a year. Discussions abound about the supposed plot as people comb over the trailers frame by frame trying to predict the story. Has Luke turned to the Dark Side of the Force? Who is the mysterious masked villain? Did Han and Leia get married? The answers to these questions and more are promised in this seventh episode, The Force Awakens. Unfortunately the answers are not all delivered and more questions are raised as the series is clumsily helmed by a new team of writers and directors, steering the film as badly as our new heroine Rey flies learning how to pilot the Millennium Falcon.
George Lucas’ grand space opera was launched in 1977 and provided an episode every three or four years until the Return of the Jedi. Lucas said he had originally plotted out 9 episodes in the series: the original three, a set of three prequels and three sequels. After the Phantom Menace bombed, Lucas said he would not be filming the last three, setting off a disturbance in the force like a thousand voices crying out in terror. After the Revenge of the Sith, Lucas sold his production company—and all rights to the Star Wars franchise—to Disney, who promptly announced plans for a sequel trilogy much to the delight of the millions of fans.
Disney picked director J.J. Abrams to helm the project as producer and director. Abrams has a distinctive style as evidenced in his other work. He was tapped by Paramount to reinvigorate Star Trek, and while many trekkers have issues with some of the license he has taken, most agree that his eye brings dynamic visuals to the films. He brings that same visual artistry to The Force Awakens. There is no arguing that the movie has breathtaking effects. My problem with Mr. Abrams is his overreliance on action to the detriment of plot. Star Trek suffers from this in huge ways. In fact, the Star Trek Beyond trailer shows with the Force Awakens and offers a film that promises almost nothing but breathtaking visuals and mind numbing action. I was hoping for more plot in Star Wars The Force Awakens. I was disappointed.
It has been reported that George Lucas offered to help with scripting, but that Abrams turned him down. Given how stilted the 3 prequels were written, that may have been a good thing, especially in the light that Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the original Star Wars scripts, was brought on to co-write the Force Awakens. The overall story was ok, owing to Kasdan’s involvement, but the movie suffers from abrupt cuts to allow for more visuals and action. Several sequences fail to connect the story elements in a logical way and leave holes in the plot that become glaring as the story progresses. Maybe having Lucas on board would have been better after all. To his credit, Abrams pays homage to the original trilogy throughout the film, from the opening scroll and fanfare to the creatures populating every scene in the movie, you know you are watching a Star Wars film. One obvious improvement is that the acting in this film is, for the most part, way better than the stiff and stilted performances in the prequels.
Mild spoilers follow. I won’t give away any big reveals here.
The film suffers from plot holes created by the cuts made to feature the more exciting scenes. We don’t understand what is motivating the actions of our heroes or villains. When the film ends we still don’t know why Rey is living in exile on a nearly barren planet subsisting on salvage from wrecked ships and a crashed star destroyer. We don’t know why Finn decides to go AWOL from the New Order and join the resistance. We don’t know why they don’t know about the force or consider Luke Skywalker a myth. We don’t know why the New Republic hasn’t made taking out the First Order as big a priority as defeating the empire was. We don’t know why Rey would wander around Maz’s compound where she happens to stumble upon Luke’s original lightsaber. It was as if Abrams had a scene in mind, but couldn’t quite figure out how to set it up in the continuity, so he didn’t bother.
Abrams also tries to introduce new abilities for the Force that we never saw in the previous 6 films. Kylo Ren seems to be able to read minds, a trick that not even Yoda mastered. Rea has the ability to use the Force with literally no training whatsoever. Jedi are trained from near birth to learn how to use the Force. Yoda even thought that Annican was too old to begin training. Luke was on Dagoba for weeks being trained by the oldest and most powerful Jedi master before he mastered the basic elements of the Force.
Annican’s light saber, the same one that Luke lost in his first battle with Darth Vader, appears in The Force Awakens with no explanation of how it got there. It also seems to “call” to Rey. While the Force is a living force, binding all living things together, a light saber is not a living thing. It is also not a magical thing. Luke’s light saber is not Excalibur, bestowing powers upon its wielder. I have more questions, but to list them would require major spoilers.
Perhaps Abrams wants us to think that the force is changing. Perhaps the Force has its own consciousness. Perhaps Yoda and Palpatine were wrong in their understanding of the true nature of the Force. Because Abrams didn’t devote any screen time to exploring these ideas, we will just have to wait and see. Despite these criticisms, I did enjoy the movie, cheering at times, clapping at times and gasping at times. It is an enjoyable film. I just wanted more answers and more story than it delivered.