(Warning: Spoilers ahead)
Unless you live under a rock or in Meah Shearim you know that the Star Wars movie franchise recently returned to the big screen with its seventh installment, The Force Awakens. Set some 30-35 years after the events of the sixth (well, really third) film, Return Of The Jedi, the movie gives us a look at what has become of the galaxy in the wake of the destruction of the evil Emperor Palpatine and his Galactic Empire.
For some fans, this was an opportunity worth salivating over. After all, it's been a whole ten years since the third (well, really sixth) film, Revenge Of The Sith, graced the screens of the local googleplex. In that long, dark decade all we fans have had to tide us over has been one season of the traditionally animated Clone Wars, five seasons (and one movie-length pilot) of the computer-animated Clone Wars and one and a half seasons of Star Wars Rebels. Really, it's been a total famine and there's no wonder fans were eagerly lining up for tickets and merchandise.
As viewers of The Phantom Menace, the first (well, really fourth) film in the series found up, there is no way to satisfy expectations of this magnitude. George Lucas took a western in space and turned it into a semi-documentary on an anxient religious order and the trade regulations of a fictional galactic republic. It was only momentum and clever advertising that enabled the film to become one of the top grossing movies of all time.
Now the franchise is owned by Disney, a company known for making safe, predictable family entertainment. Director JJ Abrams was tasked with bringing Episode 7 to the big screen and was faced with two choices. He could immerse himself in the burgeoning Star Wars culture community, read up on the major novels and comics that have detailed the history of the galaxy since Return Of The Jedi and built a movie that brought some of those great stories to life, or he could simply remake the seventh (well, first really) film, A New Hope with new characters.
He chose the latter.
What was the basic plot of A New Hope? A plucky band of rebels, striking from a secret base, wage a guerrilla war against a much more powerful bag Empire led by a mysterious dark figure and his not-so-mysterious major domo, a tall guy who wears a black outfit complete with matching cape and mask. The rebels obtain secret plans to the Empire's secret weapon, a cannon so big it can destroy an entire planet. In order to hide those plans and get those plans to their secret base they hide them in a cute droid that beeps in a way no one can understand except a select few. This droid is helped by a youth who discovers his connection to the Force and starts to build on it, a swashbuckling pilot and his pet Wookie, and an elder from the last generation who guides them towards their goal until being tragically killed by the black caped major domo. Eventually the plans are delivered, a squadron of X-wing fighters attack the Empire's super weapon and, with a lucky shot, destroy it.
There were some great scenes we will never forget. Plucky rebel defenders lining a corridor as storm troopers blow their way onto their ship only to get cut down by the Empire's superior weapons. The black clad figure striding onto the scene to check out the carnage and then interrogate the rebel ship captain who dies rather than reveal where the plans are, the wonder the youth feels as he learns how to use the Force and fight with a light sabre, all great memories.
Well I've pretty much just described The Force Awakens for you as well with one crucial difference - it's nowhere near as good.
Instead of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa and Han Solo we get Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron. Yes, in this bold new galaxy last names are in short supply. As opposed to Luke who struggled with how to engage the Force and master it, Rey simply discovers her abilities one day and a few scenes later she's dueling with Kylo Ren, the new major domo who has been practicing for years and beating him! Instead of Princess Leia with her simultaneous need to lead conflicting with her relative vulnerability to attack we get Finn who covers his inability to do anything other than storm troop with bluster so transparent that a blind Denebian sludge bat could see through it. Finally instead of Han Solo, a character carefully introduced and built up until you can't help but love the scoundrel we get Poe Dameron, a guy with some quick lines who abandons Finn after their TIE fighter crashes and then inexplicably shows up flying an X-wing fighter halfway across the galaxy. Seriously, Finn was knocked out in that crash and Poe just leaves him to die in the heat. How did he get off planet? We never find out.
Then there's the new bad guy, Kylo Ren, or Ben Skywalker to his parents. Points for effort on this one. Anakin Skywalker was a good guy always in danger of being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. Kylo/Ben (or Bylo for short, at least for me) is a bad guy always in danger of being seduced by the Good Side. Darth Vader had son issues and the Emperor feared that Luke would transition him away from the Dark Side where he really didn't belong. Bylo has daddy issues and Han almost seduces him back to the Good Side but fails because frankly, Bylo is a loser whose only shot at glory is through the easy way the Dark Side provides him with another power to stop a blaster bolt in mid-air, except for the one that Chewie almost takes him out with shot from halfway across a stadium-sized room.
Finally we have Supreme Leader Snoke, a name I giggle at every time I say it. I mean, really! Before we had The Emperor. Yeah, his name was Palpatine but once he was in charge he really didn't need it anymore. He was dark, his acting had gravity and he had a great presence. And Snoke(giggle)? Well let's be blunt: it's Gollum. Played by Andy Serkis, we find out that Gollum is running the Empire and, with a galaxy full of force-enabled individuals the best major domo he can find is a dumb-ass kid who wants to go to the Dark Side so he can show his parents what's what.
And did I mention the introduction of a 1000 year old short alien with weird eyes and a knowledge of things like the Force that no one else has? Except this time it isn't the voice of Grover powering it.
There is only one word to describe this movie: underwhelming. It lacks originality, suspense or compelling characters. I didn't see Poe as anything other than a minor secondary character even though he's the guy who fires the shot that destroys the new Death Star (they called it something else but I can't bother to remember). BB8 is R2D2 with more marketing ability. The "mysterious Captain Phasma" is a loser who, when forced to turn off the shields to her Death Star, actually does so instead of saying "I'd rather die than betray the Emp... First Order" or something meaningful like that. And Rey and Finn? It's been done.
All this proves to me that the JJ in JJ Abrams stands for Jar Jar. It's the only explanation for how he's managed to ruin both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchise.