I just returned from seeing “The Force Awakens, Star Wars VII.” Just to be upfront, I’m a relative outsider as far as Star Wars goes. Star Trek is my science fiction passion. But I thought I would offer this constructive criticism, for what it’s worth.
As characters go, Kylo Ren, the Darth Vader wannabe, strikes me as a bit threadbare and gratuitous. He has to have the helmet with the voice enhancement and ominous heavy breathing features, even though it doesn’t provide life support — it’s just employed to look cool — a bit puerile, as I see it. Adam Driver, who played Ren, is a gifted actor, but this character just didn’t work for me. I was reminded of the stereotypical maladjusted, addicted comic book reader who joins a cult out of boredom and ultimately realizes that he’s way over his head.
On other hand, I was impressed by the depictions of the two new lead characters: Rey, the lowly scavenger from the planet Jakku, who is initially rather clueless about the earlier struggles between the Republic and the Empire but who ultimately undergoes a kind of mystical awakening even more compelling than that of the young Luke Skywalker; and Finn, the disillusioned Storm Trooper who merely wants to escape the tyranny of the First Order but who, however unwittingly, undergoes his own transformation.
I was also impressed by how this episode, in keeping with earlier Star Wars episodes, serves as running commentary on contemporary times, which, as far as I’m concerned, is what science fiction is all about.
The first Star Wars episode was released in 1977, a mere 32 years after the Allies had defeated, Nazi Germany, the empire of darkness upon which the Galactic Empire was modeled. Way back then, we were locked into a titanic struggle with another empire of darkness, the Soviet Empire, a global undertaking that embodied many of the same features as the previous nemesis. It was a bipolar world two generations ago, one in which an empire embodying democratic republican values was locked in a life-or-death struggle against another one widely regarded as totalitarian.
The earlier Star Wars episodes reflected all of that — part of the reason for it’s phenomenal following.
Likewise, “The Force Awakens” reflects much of what has changed in the last 38 years. In real life, Russia, the successor to the old Soviet Empire, has distilled its historic enmity for the West into a different, counterrevolutionary form. And Russia is now only one of several forces arrayed against the West. In this new multipolar world of the 21st century, the current iteration of Russian imperialism is complemented by al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. Likewise, in “The Force Awakens,” the dark galactic forces have coalesced into a newer and arguably more virulent form, the First Order, which has slowly amassed its power over three decades.
While I was impressed with this depiction, I thought that present-day parallels could have been drawn more sharply. Despite all the decades that have passed, the forces of darkness still employ the same megalomaniacal technology from 30 years ago, notably the Starkiller Base, a hyper-charged version of the Death Star.
Granted, for an ongoing space saga such as Star Wars to continue to pack a box office punch, screenwriters have to strike a delicate balance between the old and new. But instead of simply repackaging older technology, the creators could have invested more thought into playing on many of the technological fears of the 21st century. By that I mean the witch’s brew weaponry that is far more insidious and even more terrifying than the conspicuous nuclear arsenals of the 1970s: genetic weapons, nanotechnology, weaponized pathogens, and genetically modified organisms, to name a few.
But again, I’m a Trekker who really has no dog in this hunt. I thought that “The Force Awakens” was worth the ticket price. All in all, I came away impressed and entertained.
“Live long and prosper” — I mean to say, “May the force be with you!”