Okay, it’s Tuesday. I think it’s okay to talk about what I saw in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading. Otherwise, I think five days is enough time for proper decorum to be satisfied.
Star Wars is a perfect movie. Through care or luck, George Lucas got all the elements of a classic fantasy into one film. A naive boy goes out into the world with a legendary master as mentor. He rescues the beautiful princess from the dark tower, where she is imprisoned by the evil wizard. Along the way, he self-actualizes. Throw in the most amazing special effects that had ever been seen and one of the greatest scores in the history of music, and the whole thing rises to the level of the sublime.
Maybe that’s why after six attempts there still isn’t a good sequel.
Until Revenge of the Sith, every movie in the series was worse than the previous one. Not that “Sith” is that good. It’s just that it’s better than Attack of the Clones.
The Force Awakens falls somewhere around Return of the Jedi. Maybe it’s better than “Jedi” but not as good as The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe it’s not quite as good as “Jedi.” You can decide for yourself.
But the only movie that’s any good in this series is Star Wars.
The Force Awakens is the first film without George Lucas’s involvement, and that’s a good thing. Lucas’s attempts at originality were to consistently destroy established continuity. In “Empire,” Vader becomes Luke’s father. In “Jedi,” Leia becomes Luke’s sister. In The Phantom Menace it becomes possible to kill someone in anger without turning to The Dark Side. And so on.
Every single one of these “plot twists” cheapens Star Wars further. They ruin the memory of it.
But JJ Abrams goes a different route. Instead of blowing up established continuity with “originality,” he eschews originality altogether and remakes the first three films.
A rebel ,er, resistance fighter puts secret information into a droid and sends it off to a desert planet. The droid is rescued from a salvage pirate by a young person strong with The Force. Said person escapes said desert planet aboard The Millennium Falcon with the aid of a scoundrel. The Dark Side villain has betrayed the ancient master. He murders his father just as Darth Vader murdered Obi-Wan Kenobi. A team of commandos led by Han Solo has to knock out the energy shield just like in “Jedi.”
And for the third time in seven films, X-Wings have to attack and destroy The Death Star.
There isn’t one original plot point in The Force Awakens. It has some nice moments. It’s entertaining for awhile. But it’s the same film we’ve seen before. Three times.
Indeed, most disconcertingly, it apes “Empire’s” meandering plot structure. The movie is more a series of vignettes that are vaguely connected and lead to a climactic battle. But where “Empire” gives us an exploration of the true nature of The Force and the revelation that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, The Force Awakens gives us little more than two-plus hours of fan service.
I’ve come to believe there is no such thing as a good Star Wars sequel. Maybe it just can’t be done. Maybe the original was too perfect. Maybe so much damage has been done to it by the five bad sequels it spawned, that you’d have to start completely over, which really can’t be done.
But The Empire Strikes Back remains the high-water mark for Star Wars sequels, and I hated that movie. Darth Vader is not Luke Skywalker’s father unless Obi-Wan Kenobi lied. And if he did, then there should be consequences for that.
And there aren’t. Luke just accepts Kenobi’s bullshit explanation, and then “Jedi” triply insults us by resolving the love triangle with Leia being Luke’s sister, turning one of the greatest movie villains of all time into a toothless tragic hero, and conquering a fearsome empire with a gang of primitive Teddy bears.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t detest Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I had fun while I watched it. And it is easily better than any of the horrible prequels.
But that doesn’t make it good, and the fans who say it is good because they’re relieved it didn’t suck are fooling themselves.
I am sure I will see the other two movies Disney has planned. I still like Star Wars enough that I will continue to hope for a good sequel — one with an intriguing plot and deep human themes that does not obliterate established continuity or insult my intelligence with heroic Teddy bears or children accidentally blowing up the bad guys and saving the day.
History suggests I’ll continue to wait.