Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Franchise Slumbers

I saw my first Star Wars in December 1981; my brother had bought us a brace of tickets as a welcome-home treat. (I had been away at boarding-school.) I enjoyed every minute of it, from the opening gunfight, right down to the destruction of the Death Star. I  looked forward to the sequels with some eagerness.

The sequels, sadly, were a bit of a bore. By the time the Return of the Jedi had rolled around, I was burned out on the franchise. But I wasn’t immune to its marketing prowess. When Star Wars was resurrected in the fin de siècle, I dutifully returned to the theaters, only to be scared off by the colossal incompetence on display in The Phantom Menace. I let myself be suckered again to watch the Attack of the Clones, but after that experience–where I’m not sure I made it through the entire movie–I was determined to not be fooled again, and did not watch Revenge of the Sith, a decision I do not regret in the slightest.

Clearly my resolve has weakened over the years, and so, this past week,  I found myself in a movie-hall watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I should have displayed greater resolve and stayed away.

It’s all here for the faithful: lightsabers, droids, Hans Solo, Chewie, stormtroopers, Death Stars–bigger and badder, an exotic menagerie of creatures, and so on. A great deal else is recycled: there is a bar scene, there is an attack on a Death Star, which always seems to have one fatally vulnerable point, a tall baddie dressed in black who breathes heavily and who has gone over to the Dark Side a long time ago, there is father-son conflict, a droid who has a personality of sorts, and contains a capsule with vital intelligence, thus becoming the most valuable object around, there are fights on pathways overhanging deep chasms, there is an air raid by tiny fighters on a Big Death Star, there is a Yoda-like figure–there is, as you can tell, very little imagination and creativity displayed by the ‘story writing’ team. There is also the usual inconsistent scaling and physics: objects which appear gigantic suddenly shrink, lightsabers sometimes burn, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they cut through objects, sometimes they don’t. The Force Awakens does showcase has a few lines which aspire to wittiness, and which appeared to inspire a few titters from the faithful around me, (especially when they were uttered by that rogue, Hans Solo.) But otherwise, there’s slim pickings here.

It’s all much of a muchness, really, serving to demonstrate once again, that no matter how much money you throw at the silver screen, and how fancy you get with the gimmickry, nothing quite makes a conventional feature film like a good story.  One thing The Force Awakens gets right, as do many other members of the franchise, are some beautiful set pieces of spacecraft: sometimes ruins in the desert, their cavernous interiors the setting for exploration or high-speed chases, sometimes on static display, sometimes in close-up, sometimes from afar. This astonishing visual art is perhaps the franchise’s greatest contribution to cinema. One can only hope that some enterprising hacker will collate these into a highlights reel and make it available online (before the Disney Legal Warriors come after him.)

The force isn’t with this one, but then it hasn’t been with the franchise for a while.

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