Latest instalment a welcome addition, despite some shortcomings in characterization
A long time ago (Dec. 18, 2015) in a galaxy far, far away (the Dieppe Cineplex), a couple of lifelong fans journeyed from Sackville to experience the latest chapter of the iconic 39-year Star Wars saga. Herein lie their accounts of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
Clay Steell: The Force Awakens decisively defines a new era of the Star Wars franchise, one I knew I loved within minutes of the opening crawl. Its greatest strength is its dedication to Star Wars fans, and its willingness to explicitly acknowledge this commitment. Nods to the original trilogy are masterfully incorporated in set pieces and woven into the film’s narrative. From the unlikely hero coming from a desert planet to BB-8’s cute droid parallels with R2-D2 and a reimagined spaceport cantina scene, The Force Awakens uses elements that incorporate itself into the Star Wars universe we all know and love. This creates a sense of familiarity with the film’s settings that helps its new heroes (and villains) become quickly developed and dear (or disdained) in the eyes of the viewer. While this doesn’t necessarily alienate non-fans, it definitely enhances the viewing experience of fans who know their lore—and why shouldn’t it? This is Star Wars, after all.
Sebastian Carrera: Neither confused nor too linear, The Force Awakens’s effective use of storytelling through action keeps audiences invested in its sparky, capable new protagonists. Lacking in the cumbersome dialogue and hollow action sequences characterized by the last two decades of the franchise, this installment revisits an aesthetic whose real locations and practical set pieces provide an authentic-feeling backdrop for the film’s drama. Not without its share of on-the-nose nostalgia scenes and quips, The Force Awakens satisfyingly compensates, fulfilling its narrative commitments and combining a tone of self-discovery with flippant humour.
CS: While The Force Awakens’s homage to the original trilogy is its greatest strength in hooking fans, it is simultaneously its biggest flaw. While the first half of the film sets up a compelling original story with well-developed characters, the narrative arc of the second half falls heavily on a rehashing of A New Hope’s and Return of the Jedi’s destroy-the-Death-Star-before-it-destroys-the-rebel-base plot. Bringing back thematic elements of the original trilogy is all well and good, but the film’s reliance on retelling the same plot felt unfulfilling compared to the new stories set up in movie’s opening acts. Even the First Order vs. Resistance backdrop seemed like a missed opportunity to reimagine the post-Empire Star Wars universe, as the way it’s depicted in the movie is effectively the same as the Empire vs. the Rebellion in the original trilogy. Watching the attack on Starkiller Base, I never really had any doubt that the Resistance would win as it is such a close retelling of A New Hope, ultimately making their victory anticlimactic.
SC: Those who wanted to boycott the film for its perceived progressive treatment of women and actors of colour will be delighted to see irksome Asian stereotypes rendered as the forgettable Maz Kanata. The character serves as a needless and woefully developed computer-generated mask through which Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o’s talent is obscured, and audiences seem to have little to look forward to in terms of her presence in the coming films.
Meanwhile, those optimistic that the Star Wars franchise would better represent the diversity of its audience are left to grapple with the tokenization of its main black character, Finn (John Boyega) by trying to reconcile his lengthy screen time with his nearly absent narrative agency. While this certainly leaves much to be desired on the part of the creators of the film, Rey (Daisy Ridley) successfully breaks from sexist tropes and employs the help of zero men in order to escape the dangerous predicaments in which she finds herself.
CS: These high and low points aside, The Force Awakens establishes a solid foundation for a new Star Wars trilogy. At the very least, the film’s somewhat unfulfilling final act sets high expectations for the sequel, especially with its strong character development and promising narrative setup that are sure to keep bringing fans back.