The short unspoilered version:
The good news: This is a good film. Not as good as the original films, but infinitely better than the prequels. You can safely wipe the horror of them from your memory. Call this Episode IV of the series and get on with your life.
The bad news: The Force Awakens is a remix of A New Hope, and feels oddly – uncomfortably – familiar to anyone who’s seen the original. Yes, it’s 100% Star Wars. No, it’s not a reboot like Star Trek (2009). It’s a wholly new film – set 30 years after Return of the Jedi – that rehashes the plot of the original.
Interested in my thoughts? Read on:
[su_spoiler title=”Long discussion WITH SPOILERS” style=”fancy”]
Imagine for a moment that, in 1972, a dictator arose in Germany. He didn’t have a moustache, but he did Nazi salutes and wore pseudo-Prussian military uniform. He was a snivelling loser. He was also, bizarrely, Winston Churchill’s son by a German mother.
Anyway, he signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR. He held talks with Britain whose PM was – somewhat coincidentally – the secret son of Hitler and Eva Braun, whisked out the bunker in Berlin in the nick of time and desperate to live down his heritage.
And then – as though he’d never read a history book – this dictator invaded the Eastern Bloc and started a war with Britain. Except he had nukes this time. And bigger zeppelins. America had inexplicably disappeared (except for New York, which got bombed once destroying the entire US military). And everyone lampshaded the Second World War…
Does this sound weird? And weirdly familiar? Congratulations – you have just read the alternative history version of The Force Awakens.
There are many good things to say about The Force Awakens. The fight scenes are excellent, the story rushes along, and there’s some kickass nostalgia for the fans. There’s a cantina scene with jazz players. There’s a Hoth-style snow battle. There’s even a dogfight around an Imperial Star Destroyer crashed in the desert on Jakku.
The new good guys – Finn, Rey and Poe – are engaging additions to canon. Finn is an ex-stormtrooper who can shoot a blaster (accurately) and wield a lightsaber. Rey has a backhistory more like Anakin Skywalker than Luke. The droid BB-8 is adorable and… well, a dog.
[Not all droids are dogs. Most dogs are not droids. That droid is a dog. A round, rolling, beeping dog. It even makes spaniel eyes with its black optical lens. Awwwww…]
Trouble is, the plot both rehashes A New Hope and tries to update it. The rebels destroyed the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi and set up a New Republic. The Republic exists, but the Rebel Alliance also exists and is now ‘the Resistance’. There’s also the First Order, who pretend to be the Empire, but – in reality – appear to have only two Sith Lords and one star destroyer… Oh, and a superweapon.
This raises questions… lots of ’em. And unlike John Scalzi, I asked them long before the credits rolled.
Who are the Resistance resisting? Not the Republic. According to Wikipedia, the Republic ‘backs’ the Rebel Alliance as a ‘military force’. So the Rebel Alliance is the Republic’s army? Nope. It behaves a ragtag band of outlaws. No uniforms, no rank insignia, lots of hiding out in underground HQs.
Obvious conclusion: the Republic have no regular army. They employ the Rebel Alliance as mercenaries.
Why is the entire Republic battlefleet destroyed in a single assault? Do they only control one planet? Is the rest of the galaxy lawless? Under the control of system-wide governments? Riven by civil wars sparked by the collapse of the Empire? An interesting question since the First Order – who presumably control territory – are portrayed as a force for order (but uniformly evil).
Obvious conclusion: The First Order control territory that the Republic isn’t policing. A right-wing Star Wars revisionist could have a field day with that…
How did the First Order build a planet-sized superweapon without the Republic noticing? Where did they get the labour? The materials? The galaxy-spanning Empire struggled to build the Death Star 30 years before. Yet despite the Empire losing territory, losing key personnel – its supporters somehow build a weapon of unprecedented size.
Obvious conclusion: Technology advances fast in the Star Wars universe.
Why was the First Order so rubbish? They should’ve trained more Sith Lords. They should’ve built an entire space navy before building a superweapon. They should’ve learned not to have a single vulnerable spot on a superweapon, and not to put their shields in a single facility. But, nope. They made EXACTLY THE SAME MISTAKES AS THE EMPIRE.
No one is going to willingly join a movement that uses black symbols on red banners, does Nazi-style salutes, has speeches made by a spitting, bug-eyed lunatic like General Hux. And which bases its uniforms on an Empire that lost a war bigtime. No wonder they have to kidnap stormtroopers as children. Their PR sucks.
Obvious conclusion: The First Order are not, in fact, a credible threat. The Starkiller Base is an overpowered terrorist weapon. The Resistance is a small task-force sent by the galaxy-spanning Republic to mop up a bunch of Empire wannabe losers.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Republic propaganda produced after a terrorist attack by Empire sympathisers on Hosnian Prime. The film portrays the First Order as badass to excuse the Galactic Senate for failing to detect the Starkiller Base. That’s the only explanation that makes sense…[/su_spoiler]