Rehash. Recycle. Revisit. Repackage. Reboot. The English language has a veritable plethora of words suggesting the traversal of familiar terrain, perhaps because there are so many aesthetic products that do little else. The latest permutation in the Star Wars franchise is no different despite its absurdly bloated critical acclaim, having precious few qualities to recommend it other than, I suppose, its comforting predictability. Why such reliably mediocre entertainment is so attractive to many is something I’ll never fully understand, but I think it’s akin to snarfing down a McDonald’s Big Mac. Momentarily delicious, to be sure, but it doesn’t satisfy my hunger; the greasy slab of flavor-enhanced meat leaves me feeling empty and yearning for more crap. Likewise, The Force Awakens has plenty of gaudy visuals to feast my eyes on, but it traps my mind in the void of space. A place where I float inertly and thought is blotted out by the monotony of uniformity. There’s not a whit here to whet the intellectual appetite. Lobotomized by the Hollywood thought police, I can only stare and drool at the same old spaceships. The same old robots. The same old sandy planets. The same old black-masked arch-villains.
For the first time, director J. J. Abrams has taken over the reins from George Lucas, and if aping his predecessor and gorging the cash cow with feed from moviegoers’ pockets have anything to recommend them, he’s done admirably. The shameless derivativeness is evident from the beginning. Just as the plot in A New Hope centers on the blueprints of a battle station lodged in the memory of R2-D2, so the action in Force Awakens revolves around a droid’s knowledge of Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) location in the galaxy. And what a silly-looking concoction this new droid is, rolling its big ball of metal on screen like some baddie from the video game Marble Madness. As for Luke, the last remaining Jedi has fled to the outer reaches of the galaxy in despair because of his failed attempts to train the son, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Yep, you guessed it; the young apprentice has pulled a Darth Vader and turned to the dark side, though unlike his dark grandfather, he sometimes unmasks, revealing a deer-in-the headlights facial expression, swarthy countenance, pinhead, and mane of shiny black hair. Whoa, dude, maybe he’s Keanu Reeves’s evil twin.
Death seems little less warmed over for the geriatric trio of Fisher, Hamill, and Ford, who imparted such humor and energy to the first three films—campy dialogue and all—but now look like they should be sipping Metamucil-spiked tea at a rest home. Familiar nonhuman sidekicks join the oldsters, namely Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), looking even hairier than usual but curiously lacking any gray strands unlike his buddy. And let’s not forget about the beloved golden droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), whose sense of humor has become as rusty as scrap metal.
The younger set is fitter for the task but hardly fresher. Besides Ren, there’s the ex-stormtropper-turned-good-guy Finn (John Boyega); Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a Resistance fighter pilot whom Finn helps escape from the clutches of the First Order (the evil side that has risen from the ashes of the Empire); and Rey (Daisy Ridley), a plucky young orphaned girl who’s strong in the Force and a badass with a staff in a pinch. Their performances are all creditable, particularly the two Brits Boyega and Ridley, and undoubtedly surpass the women’s-day-movie efforts of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in the prequels. But Abrams would have to employ some pretty powerful Jedi mind tricks to convince me that the dimensionless characters rescue the clumsy, simplistic script from the garbage compactor. Indeed, lines that used to have a silly charm—such as “I have a bad feeling about this”—now smell so stale that the only place they belong is a toilet bowl far, far away.
Ditto the special effects. What was once ground-breaking has become as commonplace as stars in the firmament. X-wing fighters dart around mother ships, space stations explode to smithereens, blasters ping, light sabers whirl. Ah, yes, and the Millennium Falcon rises again from the junk heap. Fakey-looking CG characters also abound, just as they had in the prequels—notably a lizard on steroids operating a trading outpost, not to mention the oversized, fat-headed dark prince of the First Order, Supreme Leader Snoke, who looks like a cross between Gargamel from The Smurfs and Grendel from Beowulf. Oh, how low we’ve sunk since Ian McDiarmid’s masterful flesh-and-blood performance as the Emperor. What was once evil incarnate has become cartoon inchoate.
Even John Williams’s score-writing, stirring though it once was, is showing signs of age. There are only so many variations one can compose on intergalactic battle themes. Formerly catchy tunes like the Force theme and the imperial marches have become clichéd strains that have lost their firepower.
The worst news is that two more sequels of this drivel are yet to come. Awaken the Force? Nah, we should have let it sleep. Forever.
Joe’s Grade: C