Monday, January 04, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Review

Stop me if you think this all sounds familiar:

  • Secret message hidden on cute robot finds its way onto desert planet.
  • Cute robot ends up in the care of orphaned young adult, struggling to make their way on planet.
  • Said adult ends up aboard the Millenium Falcon in the company of Han Solo & Chewbacca
  • Message/robot is also sought after by the evil empire.
  • Cue stormtroopers, war crimes, planet sized gun destroying things, X wing raid on planet sized gun, whilst at the same time there's a family standoff on the planet on a narrow gangway over a deep void...

Star Wars 7 is almost enough to atone for Star Wars 4-6, or 1-3 as we're supposed to call them. It ticks all the boxes for old timers like me who queued round the block in the late 1970s to catch the original. Most of the old gang are still here - Han, Chewie, Leia, R2D2, Luke (just), the Falcon. Most of the old scenes are still here too - the one in the bar, the one stumbling across the desert, the one where they escape from the imperial ship, the one where X-wings have a shootout with tie fighters, and so on.

This is one of the 2 main things that make SW7 work. Having the same characters, scenes, plot (secret message hidden in droid linked to reclusive Jedi master, baddies taking over the universe, destroy big gun before it destroys you) make the movie like the first episode of the UK blockbuster costume drama - you spend the whole time going 'oh look, it's them!' The other thing that makes it work are the 2 central characters, Rey and Finn, one an orphan child (cue speculation about who her parents are), the other a rogue stormtrooper who defies orders to commit genocide and runs away. They're both really good, and make a great onscreen partnership.

There were a few things that have been swirling around since the movie: (spoilers follow)
1. Failure. Two of the main characters from the original Star Wars have both failed. Han Solo's marriage to Leia has failed, partly around what's happened to their son, and he ends up back in his old trade of smuggling. Luke has failed as a Jedi trainer, with one of his disciples going rogue and killing the others, and gone into self-imposed exile. The message hidden on the cute robot is a map to help locate Luke, but it's only part of a map, the rest isn't discovered until much later in the movie. The film ends with Rey going to find him. Both Han and Luke have quit, and for both of them it takes the younger generation, with less baggage, to get them to re-engage: though with Luke it's left open about whether he will or not. There's a real Jesus and Peter on the beach thing going on: it's painful to go back to the place of failure and fail better, sometimes exile is easier. What do we do when we fail? Who do we need to come alongside us so that we stay in the battle against evil, rather than quit? Where do we find the necessary courage and forgiveness?

2. Teamwork. This sort of follows on. There are two loners in the movie, Luke has bailed out, the other is his rogue Jedi disciple, who has become a very dangerous person. Just about all the good stuff happens through people working together - Finn escapes from the empire (sorry First Order) ship with the help of a captured Resistance pilot, Finn and Rey escape from the desert planet by working together to fly the Falcon and fight off their pursuers, the Resistance tackle the planet sized gun with the familiar combo of a ground team disabling stuff whilst the pilots do the bombing raids (note: please do not base an anti-ISIS strategy on this movie). There is a short but really nice scene where Finn and Rey, both buzzing from a successful escape, do a short mutual admiration thing aboard the Falcon. It's this kind of thing that gives a heart to the movie.

And it's an interesting development: modernism had the lone superhero (from Clint Eastwood's lone gunman to the original Marvel comics), postmodernism had the flawed lone superhero (the 'dark' Batman, Neo in the Matrix, Tobey Maguire's black spiderman), the template now seems to be teamwork. That could be quite important: a society shaped by Christian faith, at the heart of which is a unique saviour doing something nobody else could do, fits well with stories about lone heroes. Questioning postmodernism, with scepticism about power, heroism and big stories give us flawed heroes and blurred lines between who's good and who isn't.  We now seem to like teams in the stories we tell ourselves: Avengers, X-Men, even Doctor Who is more reliant on his assistants than ever. That reflects back different gospel themes: a community of salvation where everyone contributes (Acts 2/1 Corinthians 12-14) rather than the sole visionary leader taking unquestioning followers over the hill. Our models of ministry, leadership and even faith sharing might have a bit of catching up to do.

3. Choice/Genes/Destiny: with the Force now a given (even the originally sceptic Han now says 'it's all true'), the key personal stuff orbits around the chief goodie and the chief baddie. Rey discovers the Force and what she's capable of. Kylo Ren, a wannabe Vader complete with unnecessary mask, turns out to be a Darth Vader's grandson (work it out), coached by Luke, turned to the dark side, but still struggling (at times) with whether he's made the right choice. It's clear by the end of the movie that his path is one that he's chosen - pedigree and environment may give you skills and abilities, but it's character which makes you, and it's choices which mould character.

One great mystery remains, how did they manage to clear the Skelligs of puffins for the final scene?

PS on the same topic, the current issue of Private Eye has an excellent cover.


  1. That's a really interesting comment about teamwork

  2. Excellent blog update. Thank you. I loved the movie, but you are so right with your thoughts.

  3. So the old rejuvenated/re-engaged by the that for the old ways to be done again or embracing a new way forward. Can you be 're-engaged'but not change?