For the first 45 minutes or so, The Force Awakens promises an exciting new beginning for the Star Wars series. It’s raring to go right from the start, JJ Abrams’ kinetic direction far, far away from George Lucas’ paint-by-numbers set-ups, even aside from the exhilarating action scenes. That shot of the crashed Star Destroyer we’ve all seen from the publicity stills? It looks even more breathtaking on the big screen, one of the best visual moments in modern cinema. And the new characters – desert planet scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), hot-shot X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), defecting stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), even the droid BB-8 – feel right at home in the universe the original trilogy established. When Han Solo and Chewbacca show up, as we know they will from the ubiquitous marketing campaign, it represents a passing of the torch more than anything else.
And then, rather than bid the new breed good luck on their adventures, Han and Chewy hang around. And then yet more characters from the originals appear, and The Force Awakens becomes much more about them; the new generation aren’t allowed to exist as their own thing, there always has to be a tie-back of some sort, in lieu of fleshing out their characters as they are. The plot, too, abandons any pretensions to giving us a bold new adventure by presenting a remix of the more iconic elements of the original trilogy. While not stooping to the lows of Terminator Genisys and its similarly contrived plotting, it’s still a rehash of the same old shit we’ve seen before, engineered purely to warm those nostalgic cockles.
Imagine a different version of this film, one that isn’t burdened by the yoke of nostalgia, where the story doesn’t peter out into a series of fan service references for geeks to mark out over. One where the impressive practical effects aren’t undermined by piss-poor CGI elements (the First Order’s Supreme Leader is some Harry Potter bullshit if I’ve ever seen it). One where the character development of the resourceful, capable Rey doesn’t end the moment she’s suddenly hit with the awesome stick (credit to my SO for that one). One where Finn has more to do than become as inexplicably fixated on Rey as Anakin is with Padme in the prequels. One where the supposedly intimidating Kylo Ren isn’t a petulant Doctor Doom knock-off with his mask on, and a foppish, emotionally stunted Adam Driver with it off. Doesn’t that sound like a much better film? One can only hope the next instalment of this series will better realise its potential.