While waiting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week, I re-watched my least favorite Star Wars film: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. For weeks, as the hype built up and we waited with bated breath to see what director J.J. Abrams would do, I heard a lot of renewed hatred for the prequels.
People really hate those movies. They have been ripped to pieces in the years since their release. Video reviews (longer than an hour each) have been created to talk about what trash they are. For the record – I think that pretty much every criticism of the prequels is valid. They are a poorly acted, wooden mess of a story. That said… I don’t think that any film, even Attack of the Clones, was outright horrible on its own.
That may be the reason, beyond the fact that it’s Star Wars, that the prequel trilogy inspired such hatred: it’s not entirely awful. There is some good there… but it’s broken. It’s too weighed down with all the problems going wrong to ever let the innocent, fun charm of the story shine through. I’ve seen – and forgotten about – many films that are just crap. The prequels, for all their faults, stand at least as memorable.
They attempted to add something real and new to the Star Wars universe. They failed.
Then I saw the movie… (minor spoilers to follow)
Let me say this up front: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a bad film. It’s fun, it has great performances (particularly Daisy Ridley as Rei and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and it has a lot of the heart that was missing from Lucas’ CGI heavy prequels. I absolutely would recommend seeing it in theaters.
That being said – this is not the “sequel” I was looking for.
The quotation marks should say everything. Let me give you a premise: members from the Resistance (not the Rebellion – totally different “R” word) have to get a droid that has secret plans to help them stop the First Order (doesn’t even start with an “E”) and stop their use of a massive super weapon capable of blowing up planets.
To be fair, the droid this time around does not have the plans to the Death Star, *cough*, excuse me – to the Star Killer, it has part of a missing map to find Luke Skywalker – the man whose absence seems to be dooming the galaxy. Still, the plot unfolds with quite a feeling of retreading. Even Rei’s origins as an orphan on an out-of-the-way desert world seem overly familiar.
And unlike Return of the Jedi, which had a similar structure to New Hope (start on Tatooine, finish by blowing up a Death Star) but different feel… Force Awakens never breaks the New Hope mold. Its climax hits nearly all the same notes as its predecessor.
Finally, we must mention the (maybe) main villain: Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by the one and only Andy Serkis). In general, the villains of Force Awakens are a little conceptually weak, but Snoke stands head and shoulders above the others in this regard. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a shriveled, scarred old man with vague desires of revenge – or some evil motivation – who likely has advanced knowledge of the dark side of the force. But he doesn’t wear a hood – so, you know, totally different from the Emperor.
At the moment, critics and fans are eating up the “nostalgia” of this movie, but it leaves me worried. Lucas’ prequels may have failed, but at least they were trying to do something different. This movie plays on the “remember how awesome this was/felt” feeling way too much.
For example: the cantina scene in New Hope – iconic. Seeing all the aliens gathered around, drinking and playing games, opened up the idea of a huge galaxy. The Force Awakens has the exact same sequence, intended to create the exact same feeling… except I had seen it before.
“Do, or do not. There is no try.” These were the words of Master Yoda in Empire Strikes Back… and they seem to have been the mantra of the movie. Lucas tried and failed to do something new – so don’t try anything new. The Force Awakens is fun, but I have a feeling that – as time goes on – it will lose much of the praise it is currently receiving. It has too many new elements to be a good remake, and too many remake elements to make for a really interesting (or truly great) sequel.
For a universe so rich in original stories (Heir to the Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Knight) this may be a sign of the dark side. Disney’s bold plan for a sequel to Avengers was just… recreating the Avengers after all. The vision was lacking. We may never know what Lucas’ original idea for Episode VII was, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t “let’s just do A New Hope again.”