Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Our Empire Dies

Star Wars: The Force AwakensI went over to visit my brother, who turned out to be doing somewhat better than I had expected (but still not good). He had purchased Star Wars: The Force Awakens through his cable provider, and so I ended up watching the first half of it. My brother was in a surprisingly good mood and was generally amused at my MST3King of it. The whole thing really is just a remake of the original film. But I have to admit: it’s better.

What most struck me was that Finn in the part of Han Solo was far better. Even in 1977, the Han Solo character was nothing but a stereotype. He had all the depth of character that an actor of the depth of Harrison Ford is capable of delivering. But the Finn character has actual nuance. His is a character that I can actually believe.

The film starts with basically the Star Wars equivalent of the My Lai Massacre. And despite supposedly being trained from birth to be nothing but a robotic killing machine, he turns against the First Order. I left right after he told Rey (a much less annoying Luke Skywalker) that he was just running away. I know that he will come back, just like Han Solo, because this is not meant to be a film that surprises you.

Still, as much as I liked Finn and Rey, most of the rest of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was crap.

My brother is incredibly conservative, which is interesting given that he’s been on the government dole most of his life. That’s not a slight on him. I love him. He’s my (half) brother and his biological father badly abused him, and my father was not exactly the understanding kind. But I’ve noticed a lot of people who are dependent upon the government going in exactly the opposite ideological direction than you would think. I assume it is because they are compensating. And when asked, they always say more or less the same thing: they deserve their benefits they are just against other people who “abuse” the system.

But I find it curious that my brother (and let’s face it: the vast majority of people everywhere) find a character like Finn a hero. But he is only a hero because the film defines the First Order as evil itself. If the film had even the tiniest amount of nuance, Finn would be a morally ambiguous character. Consider Bowe Bergdahl: the narrative is that he went AWOL and this is considered a bad thing because it is taken as a given that anything the US does is right. I personally think that running away is the most natural thing in the world.

Still, as much as I liked Finn and Rey, most of the rest of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was crap. The opening scene was clearly shot on a sound stage. It had the look of those Roger Corman television science fiction shows where everything happened in more or less a single room. And then there was all the humor regarding Han Solo being shocked about a modern woman. That sort of thing creates dissonance because it makes explicit the change in the sexual mores of the 1970s and those of today — something that makes no sense in the universe of the film. And if I, having seen only the original film once in 1977, can make out all the references, it’s a pretty ham-handed effort.

For what it is supposed to be, however, it seemed to work just fine. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, of course, the kind of entertainment that a dying empire creates for itself, so it can pretend that it is still on the side of the rebels. But, of course, we aren’t. We are just an old power doing everything we can to hang onto it. And that means that we will lose that power, just as surely as the First Order will by the end of the third film.

6 thoughts on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Our Empire Dies

  1. Now, now, leave Harrison Ford alone. He was actually brilliant as Indiana Jones (so was River Phoenix). If you want a comparison, go watch Secret of the Incas or High Road to China.

    • I like Harrison Ford. But to paraphrase from My Favorite Year, “He’s not an actor; he’s a movie star!”

  2. I would use Star Wars to try to get through to the shockingly high percentage of Americans who favor torture in particular, and war crimes in general. We are never shown what is so bad about life under Imperial rule, or what each side means by Freedom and Democracy, or Order. We do see the fighting. And one side indulges in killing prisoners, torture, and mass civilian casualties (do you really want to subtract the entire output of Alderan from the Imperial economy to ‘send a message’). And thus we are meant to understand that They are the Bad Guys. It probably wouldn’t have much effect. Perhaps 1 in 4. Another more subtle way we are informed of this is the very clever way Imperial military equipment is styled to remind us of the Third Reich. Stormtrooper kit, aside from the large hint in what they are called, has the gas mask canister case that Nazi soldiers wore. The tie fighter engine noise is the screech of a Stuka dive bomber. The large capital warships and the tanks are properly grey and say ‘German Engineering’. The squad heavy gun that some of the troops carry is an actual Nazi machinegun. I recently realized the color coding of the gunfire conforms to the green or orange tracer ammunition machineguns of the period used to assist aim. Caught that watching a clip from the WWII tank battle film Fury recently. And, of course, Darth Vader is supposed to be wearing samurai armor. The Jedi are supposed to be samurai and/or Chinese fighting monks in how George Lucas imagines that to be.
    Obviously I love Star Wars. I have low tastes. I know this about myself. You, Frank, are a better, more educated mind than I, and probably a better person. I admit to that when I see it. And I know the prequels are crap, though I enjoy them. Even a bad night out with your friends is still a night out with your friends. Star Trek is actually my first, and perhaps best, love. But monogamy in fandom is for zealots. A perversion. I think you would have liked the rest of Force Awakens. It wouldn’t have made you think less of it at least.

    • I don’t think it’s low taste to enjoy pop culture. Everybody needs a break from worrying about life. I do wish the movies had more depth of character and plotting (like “Empire” or the best Pixars) but you can’t have everything. And maybe opening up the series to different stories could produce some good installments, like how some “Trek” episodes/movies stood out from the reast. Here’s hoping!

      • Absolutely. I just from Umberto D to Bob’s Burgers with the greatest of ease. I need both (and everything in between) to stay (modestly) sane.

    • If I had been 2 years younger or 10 years old, I probably would have liked Star Wars a lot more. Then again, my feelings about science fiction are the same as they are about westerns. I like the dirty ones. I like cyberpunk. Not much else in science fiction really gets to me. Part of that is the moral ambiguity. In Blade Runner, everyone is somewhat likable and somewhat horrible. And the system itself is evil. The antagonists are sympathetic. But I even have my problems with Firefly because other than a couple of horrible things that the core planets do, it isn’t clear what’s so terrible. It’s always seemed kind of like a lame libertarian complaint about over-regulation. But the characters are great, so it still works. But I think I’m going to visit my brother next week and watch the second half of the film. Maybe I’ll get another post out of it.

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