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Film review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the 7th instalment in the great money-making pantheon. After Disney bought out George Lucas, the progenitor of the series, the decision was made to conscript the heavily Spielberg influenced director, J.J. Abrams, who agreed to direct a veritable clone of Episodes 1 through 3 (eschewing the “dark” prequels of Lucas’ Episodes 4 through 6). The three original episodes represented a grand updating of the old movie serials of the 30s and 40s, particularly those produced by Republic Pictures, known for outstanding special effects.

Even more influential is the memory of America’s last “noble” conflict: World War II. Indeed, The Force Awakens (TFA) features villains primarily modeled on Nazi Germany and to a lesser extent, fascist Imperial Japan. In TFA, the Nazis take the form of “The First Order,” sounding very similar to the Nazis’ “new order” (the political order which Nazi Germany wanted to impose on the conquered areas under its dominion). The Star Wars’ “good guys” are part of the “Resistance,” a moniker usually reserved for the French, who battled the Germans on their own turf in World War II. First Order Stormtroopers appear to be a stand-in for the Waffen SS (militarised formations of Hitler’s elite bodyguards and special police force), who commit Nazi-like atrocities, eliminating innocent inhabitants on the planet Jakku. The mysterious Supreme leader Snoke harks back to the image of Emperor Hirohito, an inscrutable figure in the eyes of many Americans during the second World War.

TFA features the derring-do of fighter pilots who look and sound like Americans. “Alien” pilots are also part of the Resistance and they represent foreign nationals who assisted the Americans and the British in the air campaign against Nazi Germany and Japan. American Harrison Ford as the smuggler Han Solo and one of the new protagonists, Brit Daisy Ridley, as the scavenger Rey, exemplify any civilian (on either side of the Atlantic), who assisted in the war effort (Rey’s capture and subsequent interrogation by the First Order peg her as a descendant of MI5 or OSS spies entrusted with secret information—in this case, Rey must not give away the crucial information of the map that will lead to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker).

Additional World War II allies find their counterparts in TFA. Maz Kanata (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) is the Yoda-like, ET looking alien who brings wise advice from what must be a timeless, magical Orient. And Max Von Sydow, a retired adventurer on the planet Jakku, undoubtedly typifies any ally from the Scandinavian countries that aided English-speaking combatants.

The TFA is seriously undermined by the politically correct casting choice of renegade Stormtrooper Finn played by John Boyega. Finn not only doesn’t have a very good reason for going “rogue,” but if the First Order believes in racial superiority like their Nazi counterparts, Finn would hardly be a candidate for inclusion in the elite Stormtrooper unit. Even if you buy the idea of Finn’s change of allegiance, Boyega’s decision to turn the character into a buffoon of sorts (replete with his cowardly decision to go AWOL), casts an amateurish pall on the TFA proceedings. Instead, a young Arnold Schwarznegger type would have been far more appropriate in the role. One very sagacious IMDb poster suggested that Oscar Issac who plays the crack fighter pilot, Poe, should have been cast as Finn and Boyega should have taken the role of Poe.

It’s pretty pointless rehashing the TFA plot but suffice it to say much of what goes on is a rehash of what we’ve seen before in Episodes 1 through 3. BB8, the new “droid,” is quite delightful as the roly-poly “pet” who belongs to Rey and hides part of the puzzle that will lead to Luke. Star Wars aficionados will probably dig the reappearance of the rundown Millennium Falcon ship but when Han Solo unleashes the cargo against criminals out to get him, the ensuing mayhem (featuring rapacious snake-like creatures) translates into what appear to be some rather bad outtakes from one of the Men in Black pictures. When the Falcon crew travels to the planet Takodana, there’s more nostalgia as the camera pans through a cantina consisting of most of the cooler aliens in the Star Wars universe.

The hurried TFA climax is nothing to write home about. Particularly puerile is Rey’s ability to use the Force to direct a Stormtrooper to unlock her restraints so she can escape. Then there’s the rather predictable Oedipal confrontation between Kylo Ren and his dad, Han Solo. Guess who meets his demise? Finally, there’s the rather pointless and dull light-saber battle first between Kylo and Finn and then Rey, who manages to get the better of the deranged psychopath.

Just like in the originals, the American (oops, I mean the Resistance) fighter pilots do their thing and destroy The First Order’s base. I neglected to mention Princess Leia (now General Leia), played by Carrie Fisher. Apparently the exercise and nutrition program they had Ms. Fischer on for the role, didn’t have much of an effect. Unfortunately, she appears out of shape and much older than her chronological age. Oh yes, she doesn’t have much to do except hug Han Solo and later get misty eyed over his death.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see if Mark Hamill can still act—or whether he was ever able to act at all in the first place. Hamill notably didn’t have much of a career after starring in the original Star Wars—so he probably has the most to prove.

TFA might have been better if there was more of a focus on what made the bad guys tick. Instead, it’s just another reboot of a reboot: the Star War Universe episodes 1 through 3, as a stand-in for American exceptionalism in World War II. Again, if you a Star Wars aficionado, you probably can’t go wrong here. Others should be slightly wary.

Lewis Papier.