Spoiler Alert: The Force is Awake


The latest installment in the Star Wars franchise is, as we all suspected it would be, formulaic, reminiscent of the originals and enjoyable. The plot was never bogged down by confusing scripting (the script, at times, felt more Joss Whedon than it did J.J. Abrams), and the lightsaber battles were well-paced. The comic relief was a very human John Boyega; no silly accents disgraced the dialogue.

One of the chief criticisms of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is that the new film largely mirrors the first installment of the series—“A New Hope”—in plot and structure.

The case runs as follows: a droid, bearing some Tolkienesque plot-driving burden, happens upon an orphaned blue-collar worker on a derelict deserted planet. The Nazis, hot in pursuit, force the orphan into action, which results in the orphan hiring a renegade piratical type.

Act II is where “The Force Awakens” diverges from “A New Hope.”  The finale involves an epic, space-melee terminating in an impressive explosion that really serves no place in what is meant to be a morality tale.

First, the superficial differences: it takes Rey (Daisy Ridley) approximately half the length of the film to master mind-control. We see Luke pull this trick off only after he has had two movies of practice. Likewise, Rey is able to best a Dark Jedi in one-on-one combat—something it takes Luke the entire trilogy to do.

Were I cynical, I would argue that Rey’s hyper-mastery of the Force was a reflection on the impatience of the average American audience circa 2016; were I unhealthily cynical, I would argue that it was the result of an all-male writing team (Michael Arndt at first, replaced by Jeffrey Jacob Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) over-compensating for the paucity of strong female leads in Hollywood.

I suspect instead that “The Force Awakens” was meant to play out as a sort of bait-and-switch, a joke if you will, on the typical gender roles of fantasy films. (And let’s be honest with ourselves: Star Wars is more fantastical than it is mere science-fiction.)

Consider: trailers and posters originally painted Finn (John Boyega) as the blue-lightsaber-bearer. But viewers quickly learned that Boyega’s character holds onto his lightsaber about as long as Orlando Bloom holds onto the audience’s attention in “Dead Man’s Chest.” Boyega and Ridley claim about the same screen time, though by the film’s denouement it is clear who the “main character” really is.

Our strong, female lead is kidnapped by the antagonists. In 1977, three men and a bear-thing executed the rescue; in 2016, the same all-male strike force effects the same plan, though the female lead, transcendent of her predecessor’s gender role, manages to break free of her bonds without them. (Not to mention the presence of a female villain as well.)

And there is definite precedence for metaphorical Hollywood commentary in the Star Wars franchise. The original inspiration of the evil Empire was a domineering 20th Century Fox Studios; the protagonist, intentionally named one syllable away from the surname of the renegade producer.

The only awkwardness in the film came from the young age range of the cast, beyond the immediate two main characters (Boyega and Ridley). Immediate supervision of the First Order belongs to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, age 33) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, weirdly also age 33).

Yes, they do take orders from Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, age 51), but not to the extent that Darth Vader (David Prowse, age 42 at the time of “A New Hope,” and James Earl Jones, age 46) took orders from Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing, age 64).

Of the rebels, disregarding the anthropomorphic fish, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, age clearly tampered with) is the only point of authority who looks like they were born pre-Nixon administration. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, age 36) makes most of the valuable calls throughout the film, only after he is informed by intelligence from Finn (aforementioned Boyega, age 23). The only advice that Han Solo (Harrison Ford, age 73) has to offer is, “There’s always a way to blow it up.”

Now, the Millennial-biased age range does not directly impact the plot, but if you juxtapose the chain of command in “The Force Awakens” with the lineup of military administrators on board the original Death Star, you may begin to wonder how the galaxy came to be ruled by a bunch of teenagers.

So I guess the conclusion is, go see the thing already. It has already grossed $1.9 billion as of Jan. 31, 2016. And in a year, go do it again when they bring Han back as a blue spooky Force Ghost or rip Boba Fett out of the Sarlacc Pit or reveal that Supreme Leader Snoke is really Grand Moff Tarkin or Voldemort or whatever. Abrams knows what he is doing. Also, Luke is back.