I 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.
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.