The Star Wars Force Awakens offers nothing but nostalgia


Juan Salamanca/Contributing writer


“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a good movie. Seeing the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away . . . “ title card explode alongside the first chord from composer John Williams’ legendary theme hits you with the impact of a freight train crashing into a wall. The iconic scrolling text overlaid over a gorgeously photographed shot of the stars sets the stage for the adventure ahead, one that the movie plunges into with aplomb and infectious energy.  

It’s almost magical. It’s 1977 all over again and that is precisely the movie’s biggest problem.

The making of the documentary for “The Phantom Menace,” the first in the much maligned trilogy of the “Star Wars” prequels, features a moment where George Lucas describes the apparent similarities between the prequel trilogy and the original. “It’s like poetry, sort of. It rhymes,” Lucas said.

Uncharitable fans point to this as the symbol of the prequels’ failure; a serious lack of imagination festering upon a work of sheer ego.

Among the criticisms of the “Phantom Menace” was that it, in effect, contracted rather than expanded the “Star Wars” universe. The sequence where Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan discover a boy Skywalker on the desert planet Tatooine reminded many of “A New Hope’s” introduction of Luke Skywalker, the continuous focus on the Skywalker family notwithstanding.

Yet for all of the prequels’ faults, it can at least be credited with introducing the Trade Federation and the Republic as new, or rather, not so new entities in the “Star Wars” universe.

“The Force Awakens,” for all the lavish praise showered upon it for “not sucking” like the prequels, fails this basic task in franchise-making. In fact, it’s far lazier about it whereas the Trade Federation was at a minimum a new entity with its own unique art-style and history and the First Order is the Empire with a new marketing department and daddy issues.

Of the four main settings in the film, three of them have direct parallels to settings in “A New Hope.” Jakku could be renamed Tatooine and nobody would notice the difference. The Starkiller base is just a bigger Death Star, a fact that a character in the movie openly points out to the others. There’s a “resistance” base in the movie commanded by General Leia Organa rather than a “rebelbase commanded by Princess Leia Organa.

None of this would matter if this were all re-contextualized in an exciting, fresh way, nor does it necessarily mean that the more recycled elements make this movie bad.

Movies are alchemy rather than exact science. In this regard, the movie is successful in certain respects. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver’s characters are great new leads for the franchise who will surely inspire fans for decades, mainly because they range from being brand new characters that bring new kinds of stories for “Star Wars” to providing for strong and unique twists to the classic templates laid down by the original trilogy that would be forever emulated in contemporary blockbuster cinema.

The movie is far less successful in its attempts to connect the First Order with more overt images that invoke the “Third Reich.” General Hux gives a grand, Hitler-esque villain speech about midway through the movie that encapsulates the fundamental nostalgia problem the movie has; its focus is frustratingly backwards, calling upon the long shadow of Adolf Hitler not in service of the story nor commentary, but as a “me too” reminder to the viewer that J.J. Abrams can make the Empire feel like the Nazis, just like Lucas did.

In a way, parts of the movie can be read as it being aware of this problem; certainly hanging a lampshade on the Starkiller base’s echoes of the Death Star tells us this. Some of the Stormtroopers carrying blasters with collapsable stocks that strongly resemble those found on American military weaponry hints at ideas lurking beneath the polished surface of the movie that could be incisive and dangerous if they were the ones the movie drew attention to.

Unfortunately, it seemed more interested in screaming, “this is Star Wars!” from the hilltop rather than engaging in anything substantial or threatening to its audience.

There is an argument to be made that the callbacks and parallels are a deliberate attempt to not only keep old fans but to introduce the new fans to the elements that make the original so beloved, keeping them hooked on the franchise by the time it starts coming into its own. That may be, but as a result, those same fans are robbed of a new “Star Wars” that could’ve been so much more. It could’ve been the ultimate tribute; an earth-shattering, pop culture shaping classic, just like the original.

Rian Johnson will be directing Episode VIII. Maybe he’ll have what it takes.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of FIU Student Media Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Image from Flickr:

1 Comment on "The Star Wars Force Awakens offers nothing but nostalgia"

  1. All the points in this article have already been covered continuously over the past two months, I hardly see how this adds to the sum of of general opinions of the film. In fact the redundancy of this article gives off a certain sense irony, considering the subject matter and the fact that this is indeed not new material in terms of film reviews. J.J Abrams already pointed out the parrallels to the old trilogy and their purpose, and the majority of us are cool with it.
    I honestly feel that these days there’s always someone who will point out an alleged negative facet of any given project, and then a large number of people will jump on that same bandwagon. Not because they have any sound opinion of their own, but because negativity itself has become trendy.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.