Summary: The new Star Wars film shows how well Hollywood understands us. Not just what we want in a film, but the deeper themes that appeal to us. As such it provides a valuable mirror of early 21st C America, one well worth studying. There are spoilers. Lots of them.
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The Force Awakens is a pastiche of George Lucas’ 1977 Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. The plot is almost identical, although with key differences in tone and especially character development. The original gave us a classic hero’s quest. We first saw Luke as a callow farm-boy and watched him grow into a competent young man — with his real growth lying in the future. Han also grows into a hero.
The Force Awakens is a tale of grrl-power. Rey (Daisy Ridley) appears on screen as an independent, intelligent, bold, and brave women. She fights and chases off two thugs. She is a skilled engineer and starship pilot (immediately doing acrobatics with the Millennium Falcon). She masters the Force instantly: she frees herself from restraints, controls a guard’s mind, is an ace shot the first time she fires a blaster, and defeats a trained Sith the first time she wields a light-saber.
She can grow more powerful — at this rate she’ll be a god by episode three, bringing “balance to the force” — but has no flaws to overcome. Like so many female protagonists these days, she is a “Mary Sue” (an omnicompetent fantasy character, admired or loved by everyone in the story;more about this in the comments).
John Boyega plays Finn, the dorky sidekick and love interest, another paring of an alpha girl with a beta boy (like Peeta and Katniss in The Hunger Games, Hermione and Ron in Harry Potter). Beaten up by Rey at their first meeting, Finn later abandons her. Rey and Han Solo repeatedly rescue him. He lies to Rey about being with the Resistance. He lies to the Resistance’s leaders about the critical plot point.
The story is ramshackle, filled with plot holes. It has more action and less dialog than the original, giving it that theme-park-ride-experience pioneered by Pirates of the Caribbean. The galaxy seems like Smallville: Han bumps into Rey and Finn while they’re flying away, Rey stumbles upon Luke’s light-saber, Finn sees Rey escaping the enemy base. Flight between stars takes minutes.
The emotional flow is erratic, lacking the clear simple sweep of the original. The musical accompaniment is crude, even for a summer blockbuster.