Movie Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” doesn’t match all the hype
There were two movies America couldn’t get enough of in 1977. The first, Star Wars went on to envelope pop-culture in such a suffocating, ever-present degree that the only possible way to escape it is death. The second was “Smokey and the Bandit,” a film in which the late Jackie Gleason wore a cowboy hat, threatened to barbecue character’s asses in molasses and briefly made racist, southern sheriffs not just lovable, but nearly cuddly.
In short, Star Wars stuck around while “Smokey and the Bandit” didn’t. But I wish it was the other way around. I wish I could walk into any one of three remaining FYEs on the earth and see too many Sheriff Buford T. Justice dolls on the shelf instead of too many Darth Vader dolls. I wish I could go to any Halloween party and see the uncertain faces of women as they have second thoughts about being coerced by their soon-to-be ex-boyfriends into dressing as Jerry Reed instead of Princess Leia in her ‘slave’ get-up. I wish I sat through “Smokey and the Bandit: The Sumbitch Stirs” instead of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” this past weekend.
First things first, yes, “The Force Awakens” is better than “The Phantom Menace,” but so what? I can name at least 10 films I’ve seen within the past three months that were better than “The Phantom Menace,” eight of which were particularly terrible. “The Phantom Menace” lowered the bar so drastically that to make something worse, you’d have to pick the bar off the ground just to dig a hole underneath it.
“The Force Awakens” isn’t bad. It’s mediocre. It’s an expensive fan-film produced off the backs of every parent trying to avoid a public meltdown at the Magic Kingdom by allowing their 7-year-old daughter to get “the Elsa” look at the Bibbity, Bobbity, Boutique. Like any fan film, “The Force Awakens” thinks it’s expanding and building upon a beloved property, when it’s really serving to make its object of affection a little more narrow and a lot less challenging. In “The Force Awakens” homage and creative lethargy battle to the death until creative lethargy emerges unscathed.
Plot points from the first trilogy are repeated artlessly and without irony, Harrison Ford wants all of us to know that he’s “got a bad feeling about this,” a grating little droid has some important information hidden away on one of its chips and effectively ‘Jar Jars’ up the proceedings with its cutesy-poo antics.
Like “Jurassic World,” another expensive fan film, “The Force Awakens” can’t stop reminding you of its past. “Hey, remember Chewbacca’s 3-D chess set? Oh, look over there! Daisy Ridley is wearing an X-Wing Fighter helmet while sitting next to a decommissioned AT-AT! Oooooh! Is that the floating remote droid Luke trained with in Star Wars that John Boyega is suddenly holding in his hand for no particular reason?”
Basically it’s fan service at its most distracting and desperate. Outside of making a tidy profit, “The Force Awakens” only true purpose is to generate cheap nostalgia. And that’s fine, but you know what would have brought on the warm fuzzies a lot easier and with a lot less hype? One of those cast reunion sketches Jimmy Fallon smirks through on the “Tonight Show.” Granted, it would have been just as equally useless and empty, but at least it wouldn’t have cluttered up the collective unconscious for a year.
Of course, that isn’t to say that “The Force Awakens” isn’t without its share of enjoyment. Harrison Ford seems to be having the time of his life reprising his role as Han Solo and every scene with him seems to be taken from a far more entertaining movie. “The Force Awakens” should have been about Han and Chewie smuggling spice as they try to avoid their own version of Sheriff Buford T. Justice along the Kessel run. Because once he’s off screen, we’re forced to deal with the new blandly conceived characters like Kylo Ren (a name so close to the alternative rock group Rilo Kiley that J.J. Abrams just did most of the heavy lifting for whoever is writing the parody of “Star Bores: The Farce AwakenZZZZ” for Mad Magazine) a non-committal shrug of a villain whose only memorable feature is the fact that he sort of resembles one of the Boston Marathon Bombers without his Darth Vader-y balaclava.
To some, all of this may sound like dreamcrushing meanness from a bitter, hostile old man. But let’s see if “The Force Awakens” is still the best “Star Wars” movie since “Empire” two weeks from now when all of the hype has worn off and all you’re left with is a Sphero BB-8 toy that can no longer turn left because the dog got at it.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”
Starring: Harison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley
Director: J.J. Abrams
Weekender Rating: WW
Length: 132 min