The best thing you could say about the Force Awakens is that it will please fans of the original Star Wars Trilogy. Possibly the worst thing you can say about it is exactly the same. The Force Awakens removes creative control from the more impulsive hands of founding father George Lucas and transfers it to the more conventional and structured direction of JJ Abrams. The result feels less like a work of creative art and more like a film designed by the results of a focus group.
The Force Awakens treats loyal fans of the original franchise to no end of subtle and not-so-subtle homages to the original trilogy. A droid being entrusted with vital information, a mad man-hunt for said droid, a quest to destroy a gigantic long range laser canon, a return of the Millennium Falcon, a mask wearing villain/anti-hero and a pointless yet harmless return of Admiral Akbar.
Similarly there is a studious aversion to any plot elements first introduced in the much maligned prequels. Despite assurances that the prequels would not be airbrushed out of existence, there is certainly no acknowledgement that they ever existed. A cursory mention of “The Old Jedi Temple” is the closest we get and this speaks to Abrams approach to the sequels.
Its cuts a razor sharp contrast with The Phantom Menace. The latter represented something highly audacious. It injected fresh and ambitious concepts into the old franchise, overhauling many preconceptions fans had about it. For this it was widely jeered and scorned, Lucas had transformed something the fans liked. He had, in their minds, proverbially fixed the fully functioning apparatus, for which they will never forgive him.
Abrams and The Force Awakens take a more conservative approach. It peppers the film with hammy nods to nostalgia and purges away all the bad memories. The film is enjoyable enough, the plot reliable, the special effects impressive and the acting is solid but there is something unsatisfying about watching a film so craftily designed to hit key performance indicators. It feels a bit like something out of Brave New World, one of Hemholtz’s masterly creations.
All in all I was entertained for the duration of the film, but I left feeling a little despondent. Did this “test tube” film signify what the future would be like for Cinema? Conservative attempts to evoke nostalgia over old favourites? I’m not so naïve not to realise that this has been going on for some time now, decades even. But in The Force Awakens there was something altogether naked and shameless about it, and as the immediate successor to such risk taking audacious cinematography as the much maligned prequels, it was just a little depressing. Did I prefer the prequels? Yousa mightn’ be saying dat.