starwarzThe Force Awakens

Directed by J J Abrams
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy & J J Abrams
Written by Lawrance Kasdan, Bryan Burk & Michael Arndt
Reviewed by Dimitri Burshtein

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …. well, not that far away and not that long ago.

It’s here. It’s is out. It’s time. Not for the second coming of Gough, but for the seventh coming of Star Wars, this time titled The Force Awakens.

After a 10 year hiatus, the latest instalment of the Star Wars family of movies has arrived. But this time, it’s different. Having sold the Star Wars (and Lucasfilm) franchise to Disney in 2012, George Lucas walked away with a cool US$4 billion.

While Lucas got the cash, the rest of us got the benefit of the Disney movie making machine to make episodes 7, 8 and 9 of the Star Wars series. For this movie and at least the next, Disney engaged J.J. Abrams to write and direct. Abrams is also the man behind the latest Star Trek movies giving him the opportunity to be on both sides of the star debate – Star Wars or Star Trek.

Lucas’ most recent Star Wars movies, the prequel episodes 1, 2 and 3, were poorly received – too many characters, over reliance on special effects and terrible acting, especially by Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. The movies could have been described as fundraisers. In contrast, in episode 7, Abrams tells a very tight story and does not over rely on special effects. Tellingly, there are also fewer characters with the initial focus on Rey a scavenger, Finn a deserter storm trooper and Kylo Ren the bad guy powered by the Dark Side.

To be fair to Lucas, Abrahams had the benefit of a contiguous six prior movies without the need to reverse engineer his story. This allowed him to recruit Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) to take roles in this movie. Yes, they were some 30 years older, greyer and “rounder”, but they were still Luke, Leia and Han. But the sense of nostalgia harking back to the original three movies was not a fault. It was a feature.

The Force Awakens is set some years after the Return of the Jedi – where Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker died and Luke Skywalker brought balance back to the force. There is again a battle for freedom and justice with a reconstituted Galactic Republic called the First Order and the ever reliable Rebel Alliance.

For economic as much as spiritual reasons, it is important that this movie is a success. Following the poorly received prequels, a Star Wars counter narrative was given birth; that the Empire/Republic were the “good guys” seeking to maintain galactic law and order and the Jedi the were “bad guys”, a crypto-religious cult. Although perhaps not by deliberate design, hopefully The Force Awakens puts to bed this narrative.

The Jedi-bad-guys counter-narrative emerged in 2002 via the pen of Jonathan V. Last. Last’s thesis was that the Empire, for all of its failings, was a democratically elected government seeking to engender inter-planetary peace, stability and commerce. The Jedi, on the other hand, were an “arrogant royalist Swiss Guard” with theocratic tendencies who heard voices (the Force).

Last’s criticism of the Jedi extended to their keeping of slaves, the droids R2D2, C3P0 and BB8, and their preference for extra-judicial executions. The latter being demonstrated in the Revenge of the Sith, when Mace Windu was trying to kill Palpatine. Upon witnessing this, Anakin Skywalker implored Windu that Palpatine must stand trial but Windu replied “he (Paplatine) has control of the senate and all the courts. He is too dangerous to be left alive”.

The Force Awakens is a wonderful redemption. It stands on its own feet and one does not need to see the prior Star Wars films to enjoy and appreciate it. But as a member of the Star Wars family, it will break box office records. There is no wonder that Disney has indicated that they will keep making Star Wars movies as long as people keep paying to see them.

To be honest, I was not very excited about the prospects of this instalment, but it was so good, I am desperately looking forward to the next two. For a final rating, I will defer to the words of my 8 year old son who rated the film as a great. My 10 year old gave it a shy thumbs up, and it takes a lot to get a thumb up from him!

Star Wars Episode 8 is scheduled for 2017. With the Force having awoken, what will happen next?