When the final credits roll on The Force Awakens, you realise exactly how unforgivably terrible the Prequels are. For years, I had thought I’d found interesting bits in the Prequels, nuggets of coffee in the bird poo of Anakin’s biography. But, no. They were just shit and The Force Awakens is here to show us how much better a Star Wars film can be.
Worrying about spoilers is for entitled crybabies. As usual, this review is about reading more into the visual spectacle and rollercoaster of popular culture.
The Star Wars universe is once again split down the middle. On the one side, we have the fascist forces of Stormtroopers, anonymising-helmets, racial ‘purity’, and English accents. On the other side, we have the American accents of the freedom fighters, bright colours, and green forests. As with A New Hope, the adventure begins outside the ideological battle, in the desert of the real, where people are trying to scratch out a living on the margins of society.
Where people have been keen to see The Force Awakens as a nostalgic trip back to the Original Trilogy, more is found by exploring their differences. The Empire, once staffed mostly by old white men, has been replaced by The First Order, structured around a bunch of young men and women no older than 35. Although it’s tempting to consider this a consequence of our generation’s preoccupation with youth, it also resonates with the real world. Young people radicalised by intuitions about a strong and powerful past. Even the name of the death cult, the First Order, suggests ideas about legitimacy and authenticity: ‘We are restoring that which once was, that which will save us from the degenerate chaos of modernity.’
It is interesting that it is not the New Republic which fights against the First Order, but the Resistance. The New Republic suffers an attack due to its inability to confront the First Order, and due to the lack of resources available to the Resistance.
The conflict survives because the powerful refuse to enter the fray. Luke Skywalker has abandoned the political world, even though he could bring an end to the First Order in short order. The New Republic has abandoned conflict due to what appear to be irrational pacifist tendencies, even though it could surely do direct battle with the First Order. And Supreme Leader Snoke looks like he’s powerful enough to inflict some real damage on the Galaxy, but he’s distant and remote, acting out of the shadows (I’m looking forward to finding out why).
So the fate of the galaxy once again comes down to a few key individuals from a particular bloodline. The history of the Star Wars universe isn’t one of proletariats, workers, and outsiders: it’s a history of a noble family that began with a child born into slavery. People influence history not by being part of something bigger, but by individually making particular choices. Finn chooses to abandon the First Order. Rey chooses to abandon Jakku. Han chooses to confront Kylo. The dynamics of the social movements in which they operate are immaterial.
The Force Awakens is nearly a perfect film. General Hux is miscast – he just doesn’t command the awe and dignity that you’d expect of a populist leader. He is inspiring a generation of the disaffected to act contrary to their individual interests and subordinate themselves to the symbols of power, but he looks like he’d prefer to be playing Destiny in his mum’s basement. Captain Phasma isn’t nearly terrifying enough. Gwendoline Christie should have taken a page from Hugo Weaving’s book on how to convey menace while buried under an anonymising costume. She just has no presence. And Maz is an entirely useless character.
But none of this manages to disrupt the film. Kylo Ren is the perfect imperfect Vader: the boy who wants to be the man but can’t quite realise authenticity. Finn is such a great character, and Rey finally brings depth to the female characters in the Star Wars films. Star Wars has always been about family, and The Force Awakens keeps with this theme. It feels like a Star Wars film in the way that the Prequels didn’t. It left me with so many questions and eagerly awaiting the next instalment.