by Robert Delany
Photo Courtesy of Facebook
There is nothing more powerful than nostalgia. Nostalgia overrides all sense of reason, all sense of rationality and bulldozes through facts on its way to create a temple of biased thought.
In film, nostalgia will brainwash the minds of the public in an instant, even affecting the critics who are supposed to be the enlightened ones of the bunch.
Remakes, sequels and adaptations dominate the modern cinematic landscape: whether it is Disney converting old animated films into live action films (Jungle Book, Tarzan, Pete’s Dragon, etc.) or Marvel adapting its entire history of comic books into films (pick any one of the super hero movies that are being made or have been made in the past decade).
In both of these examples, the production studios are using the nostalgia of the public to power a massively successful box office hit machine. Whether or not these films are any good is inconsequential due to the fact that they gross Scrooge McDuck amounts of profit.
So in anticipation of the newest Star Wars film Rogue One, it seems like an opportune time to look back at one of the most infamous cases of the critics buying into the Hollywood machine: Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I was a devout Star Wars fan as a child. I saw all the films countless times, I played all the video games, I read many of the comics; I was enthralled by the world George Lucas had created. I loved to transport my mind to the incredibly exotic locales, to invest myself in the archetypal battles of good and evil and I adored the warrior-monk philosophy that ran through every aspect of Lucas’ work.
Naturally, when The Force Awakens was announced, I was beside myself with excitement. A new addition to my precious childhood mythology was within my grasp, and I was prepared to fall in love with the Star Wars universe once again.
But as I settled into my seat in the theater, watching the movie unfold, I slowly grew to realize I had been tricked. I could hear the phlegm-filled voice of Admiral Ackbar yelling, “It’s a trap!” as I tumbled into a nightmare that shook me from one of my purest childhood memories. Instead of the spiritual successor to George Lucas’ imaginative achievement, I experienced the worst that the Hollywood machine had to offer.
The Force Awakens fails on numerous levels. First, the locales are anything but exotic. In the previous films, Lucas created incredible landscapes: the cloud shrouded platforms of Bespin, the fiery hells of Mustafar, the mysterious and alluring sea of Kamino. So what did Disney add to a world of incredible locations?
In The Force Awakens we travel to...a desert planet again? To...a forest? To...a snowy planet again? Where did the imagination go? Was Disney fresh out of imagination juice the day they decided to create the locations for the new film? Or did they rip off previous settings from other Star Wars films—the deserts of Tatooine, the forests of Endor, the snowy plains of Hoth—and fabricate a different name to satisfy the audience? I would side with the latter.
Second, the story is a step-by-step copy of the fourth Star Wars film. This is not a controversial opinion; even the nostalgia-ridden critics can recognize that the film is a complete copy of A New Hope. The same Death Star, but bigger! The same hero-centric story arc, but now it’s a girl! The same villain, but now he is young!
Third, rationality and a martial arts philosophy was replaced with Disney magic. A huge part of the Star Wars mythos is the path of the warrior, and the devotion of one’s entire life to honing these skills. This subject is especially close to my heart because my life has been steeped in martial arts since I was 14 (Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) so I understand what it is like to fight and train over years and years.
When Rey battles Kylo Ren, one who is familiar with the Star Wars series would expect Kylo to crush her. Kylo Ren had trained with Luke for years, then under some mysterious Sith for years after Luke disappeared, and has been tearing his way through swathes of rebels ever since. One would think that a character who only learned she had powers five minutes prior would not dominate this seasoned warrior. But Disney had other plans.
Disney has made its legacy with pushing the, “you can do anything if you put your mind to it” ethos onto the world, but they crossed a line when they brought this irrational philosophy into the film.
Rey not only dominates Kylo Ren, but takes all of the malice away from the mainstay villain of the new series. The audience cannot fear a villain that had been crushed by the untrained, unprepared protagonist, and fans of the series somehow have to deal with Disney ignoring one of the most important themes of the entire Star Wars saga; that these heroes earn their powers, not magically acquire them through Disney magic.
Overall, I could criticize The Force Awakens for pages and pages. I could focus on the mediocre acting, the bland dialogue, the average directing—but the three points I made previously undermine the very soul of the Star Wars series.
I am anticipating much of the same from Rogue One, but hopefully I can keep an open enough mind to let Disney win back my fandom. One can only hope so much.