“Let me pitch you this idea. We’ll take a movie that was made 20, 30, 40 years ago and we’ll remake it, using pretty much the same story, but with a modern twist. We’ll make the token female role much tougher, although, don’t worry, she’ll still need saving by a guy lots of times. And we’ll bring back some of the original actors so the old fans feel included and we’ll make a joke of the fact that they’re really old. We’ll show everyone how much better CGI is nowadays and we’ll make the story line much more complicated with lots of ‘science’ to explain all the things that don’t make sense. And we’ll fill it with white guys.” Terminator Genisys or Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
I went in to the new Star Wars movie (episode VII) with a pretty good idea of what to expect. At 2 and a half hours long with some new young leads and a few old ones, I was expecting an overpadded story line and lots of special effects and opportunities for merchandising. I was hoping for more grit and less schmaltz than the prequels and a better reflection of the diversity of the world than would have been realised in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Sigh. I pretty much got what I was expecting and I quite enjoyed the ride but ultimately I felt let down.
I kept thinking of Terminator Genisys. If you’ve seen this and know the Terminator franchise, you may have been as gobsmacked as me to realise they had simply remade the original story, albeit with better special effects and a running joke that Arnie was old. The Sarah Connor character had been made tougher, more like she was in T2, but still needing plenty of saving by an even tougher Kyle Reese. When inspiration runs out, let’s just remake an old film (Jurassic Park, Point Break…).
So back to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ll try not to give away too much of the story but really it is the same as the original. There is a plucky orphan living on a desert planet who is strong in the force but doesn’t know it and is probably of Jedi lineage. There is a young and dashing warrior, there for his own ends but with a heart of gold. There is an evil masked dude all in black battling with his dark and light sides. There is a cute robot with a secret message. There is an evil emperor. There are lots of baddies dressed like Nazis. There is a wizened frog-like sage dispensing wise advice. There is father/son angst. Sound familiar?
Overall, it’s not a terrible movie. The main female lead, Rey, is a cracker and there is some good repartee between her and Finn, the male sidekick, and Han. It is grittier than the prequels but still Disney pretty. I enjoyed seeing Han and Chewy and Leia again, although I was saddened by Carrie Fisher’s strangely immobile face that makes the inequity for older female actors in Hollywood so apparent. The new baddy, Kylo Ren, is an interesting one. I couldn’t quite take him seriously but he has the look going on and perhaps will be allowed to develop into a character as ominous as Darth Vader. For the moment he seems to be a petulant child playing dress ups.
The thing that got most up my nose though was the proliferation of white guys in this fictitious world. We can obviously accept talking robots, wookies, mind control, weapons that draw power from the sun, death stars and hover bikes but can only have three or so female speaking roles. This film only just passed the Bechdel test, a sad indictment for a film of such length with so much potential for diversity and such a broad audience base. Cultural diversity was also significant in its absence. There was Finn and the occasional glimpse of a non-white face but that was it. What’s going on Hollywood? Half the world is female, you know. Most of the world is not white. You can’t mollify this film-goer with token leads that pretend you are being progressive.
And lastly. The final shot is really dumb. So overplayed.
Having said all that, I was with some kids who liked it and perhaps this franchise has become really just for kids. That would explain the cuteness and lack of originality, the need to exaggerate and over-explain. I think it underestimates the visual literacy of young people these days though and will relegate it to one film amongst many, rather than allow it to achieve the iconic status of the originals.
Bechdel test – pass (but only just)