I admit that I had very high expectations for this film, and not only because I have been waiting since 1980 for some sanity to return to the franchise. (No, that’s not a typo. I have been waiting since the release of The Empire Strikes Back. I thought Return of the Jedi, though not terrible, to be slightly anticlimactic after Empire.)
So after sitting through a half dozen product placement ads, including one for Light Side and Dark Side cosmetics by Revlon (?!) and some weak previews for movies that would most assuredly NOT appeal to the typical Star Wars demographic, I finally donned my 3D glasses and awaited the Force’s Awakening.
Two hours later, I emerged relatively unscathed. (This was not the case, BTW, after I stumbled out of the theatre post-The Phantom Menace.) SW:TFA did not disappoint nor did it particularly impress.
What I did experience was the odd feeling that I had seen this movie before.
And then I realized: I have seen this movie before. It was called Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
I could break down how J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt cribbed pretty much every essential plot point from the first two thirds of the Original Trilogy… but I won’t.
Cribbing, in itself, is not a cardinal sin considering, as Aaron Bady observed:
The one thing the original trilogy wasn’t was original. Similarly, The Force Awakens is great, but it isn’t interesting. The jokes are good, the action is organic and compelling, the characters are well inhabited by competent actors, and the cinematography and music is excellent and consistently inventive. But everything that puts you in the moment, when you’re watching it, falls apart as soon as you turn your brain back on. As experience, as ritualistic performance, as society-wide holiday, and as entertainment-industrial-complex, Star Wars is a strange and magnificent and disgusting enterprise. As original story, it’s total crap.
As a seven year old in 1977, I did not mind that Star Wars referenced (among others) Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Metropolis, Akira Kurosawa and the 1954 British film The Dam Busters. I wasn’t aware enough to mind. ⌘C + ⌘V for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
And I wouldn’t have minded terribly if Abrams had cribbed for SW:TFA. I would have loved to see how he would have weaved together snippets from, say, Yojimbo or stylistic nods to Sam Peckinpah or allusions to SOMETHING ELSE besides George Lucas. But, alas, he did not. Abrams, too, succumbed to the Dark Side of franchise film making as he did with Star Trek…
Shameless fan service!