As with Star Trek, JJ Abrams took on an inheritance that had lost all its creative spark and re-energised it. He has done this more successfully than with Trek – as long as you concentrate on the characters and not on what’s going on around them. He doesn’t add much that is new but he takes the existing shapes in the toybox and rearranges them into fun new patterns. The Force Awakens was fun to watch, those two hours passed very quickly, and I can still remember the plot, which is a lot more than I could do less than 24 hours after any of the the last three.
We have a fantastic female hero with her own agenda that does not include saving the galaxy; we have a pretty good flawed male hero who is a deserter and just wants to get away. Personal agendas just happen to collide into galaxy-saving goodness. The end of Return of the Jedi was not a happy-ever-after for everyone; we can understand how Han and Leia have drifted apart. Sadly, that is how many couples very easily react to heartbreak. In short, our good guys manage to be good and flawed and interesting, which prevents them from being overshadowed by the bad guys (a flaw of episodes 4-6) and makes us care about them (one of the many flaws of episodes 1-3).
The bad guys are less successful, but they are bad enough to swing it. Kylo Ren is a nice try at a new Vader but … not quite. He just walks up to people. He doesn’t stride, loom, or possess a scene just by being there. He is not the biggest guy in the room. This may be deliberate: he is young; he still has his grandfather’s tendency to tantrum (though unlike his grandfather, he does something about his grievances instead of just whining about them); his reach exceeds his grasp. The most memorable baddie to me was the carpet-chewing, implausibly young General Hux. On the one hand, I like to see a senior bad guy officer who obviously considers himself the equal of the Vader-figure and doesn’t live his life in fear of Force-choking. On the other hand, that fact alone diminishes the impact of the Vader-figure.
These are quibbles. Take home message: characters good.
But when you look at what is going on in the background …
Okay. Abrams simply does not get planets. This became apparent in his first Trek movie where the entire destruction of Vulcan thing made no sense whatsoever. It becomes even more apparent here. The death planet draws its power from its sun; we see some kind of solar filament extending out through space to do just this. (It is fully charged when the sun goes out. Does the sun recharge? Does it find a new sun? We see it fire once, then start to recharge prior to a second firing, so something must have happened.) The filament does not wrap itself around the planet; therefore, the planet does not rotate on its axis. (It would wobble badly if it tried.) Despite this, it is always facing the right direction for wherever it wants to shoot at. (Which could be anywhere in the galaxy. Maybe it’s at the end of the galaxy? Is this why its death rays are visible wherever in space you happen to be? Is it on Terminus? Is the First Order in fact the Foundation? Discuss.)
Next, the Republic was the political successor to the Empire, so it ought to be the one that inherited all the Empire’s resources: the star destroyers, the TIE fighters, the stormtroopers. So why is the Republic (well, okay, the Resistance but they seem contiguous) the one that is just as ragtag as the Rebel Alliance of old and the First Order is the one able to carve out entire planets into death weapons?
I suspect Abrams is drawing on the audience’s experience of the real world in which the Soviet Union fell (hooray!) and was replaced by something almost as big and unpleasant (boo!). So, in The Force Awakens, the Republic ought to be the one with the death planet while Leia’s Resistance continues as before.
These to me were the two biggest things that just did not make sense, and if I chose to dwell on them they would spoil the memory. So I won’t. I’ll just remember Rey and Finn and Poe and BB8 and look forward to seeing where their paths take them in the next movie.
Some final thoughts presented as bullet points:
- Leia’s hair continues to defy. Never mind what – it just defies.
- Stormtrooper armour keeps out smoke but not gas, so it is therefore slightly less good than the standard NBC battle kit available to modern NATO forces.
- The lightsabre that belonged to Luke and his father before him was lost in The Empire Strikes Back when his father cut off the hand that was holding it, over a very long drop. Luke then made himself a new one.
- Jakku is Tatooine by any other name – they could have varied it slightly.
- The supreme evil behind the First Order, the next Palpatine, is called … Snape? Scrope? Scrote? Hang on, I’ll just look him up: Snoke. For crying out loud. “All hail the power of Snoke!” Really?
- X-Wings and TIE fighters are capable of hyperspace travel, but fly not much faster than WW1 biplanes when engaged in atmosphere combat.
- Max Von Sydow is still alive?! Good grief, how old is he?