This is a review of The Force Awakens. But it is also a bit of an anachronistic plea for why the original Star Wars trilogy – that’s Episodes IV, V, and VI, – matter. I know that this makes me a bit of blowhard – hardly anybody wants to hear this, but I think I actually have a somewhat unique angle here.
Let me explain. I am not your typical Star Wars fanboy. Despite consistent attempts to pigeon-hole me as such, I simply am not like that. I rarely watch Star Wars, much less agonize over teaser trailer details or collect the toys. In fairness, I will reveal that as a child I loved my Star Wars micro machines and collected Star Wars cards like a maniac. That being said, since I started high school, I have largely forgotten about the whole thing.
Star Wars always has had three sides to its fans. The first is Nerd Culture. The second are children/families/pop culture fans. Lastly – and most obscurely – are fans of the mythology and technical perfection that people see in Star Wars. People like me.
First there is the technical aspects: the amazing special effects, the dazzling array of creatures and robots and vehicles. The likeable, believable-ness of the Star Wars Universe. The dialogue is essentially perfect; witty, but succinct. Smart, but not sappy or wordy. The characters are recognisable stereotypes, but are still fresh and deep in their own way. The plot – tweaked by George Lukas to conform to Joseph Campbell’s books on mythology – is perfect, complete, and fulfilling. The sounds and soundtrack are perfect. The result is a cowboy western meets samurai showdown meets epic space opera and King Arthur’s Court.
Most Importantly, Star Wars is a portal into Zen and eastern mysticism. This sounds weird, but bare with me. If you watch Japanese samurai flicks from the ’50s, and ’60s, like those of Akira Kurosawa, or Seven Samurai, you can see the influence. In Eastern religions, and in Zen and Japanese philosophy, Good and Evil function differently. Eastern religions do not have our Manichean background; someone of extreme spirituality is just as capable of evil deeds as good ones. And while good works are definitely associated with saints and heroes, it’s possible for those that are inducted into the inner truths of things to weld great power for evil. The ultimate background of the Eastern Universe is moral-neutral; it’s cyclical, rather then the more teleological universe that we are used too.
Star Wars takes place in this “Eastern” universe. It was my first contact with this powerful, timeless mode of thinking; and for the greater American public, this legacy is more important than most people realise. In the original movies, The Force is implicitly Japanese. In the Prequels (Episodes I, II, III), it is biological, and in the latest instalment (Episode VII), it is magical, akin to the Harry Potter Universe. This is a serious step backwards.
The Force is a westernised adaptation that is akin the Tao of Chinese background. It represents both philosophic knowledge, spiritual realisation, personal discipline, as well as alignment with forces greater than yourself. It’s not magic: it has more to do with the idea of “the flow-state” or what Hunter S. Thompson would call “when the Music starts”. It’s self-actualisation and spiritual achievement. It’s the physical expression of the attainment of Wisdom and Insight into a deeper, fundamental Reality.
Luke only slowly comes to realize the Force and it’s power. He really doesn’t use the Force until the end of Episode VI; we see this in his implies to become a hermit. Like in Japanese sword flicks, the winner of the dual is often apparent – it’s a matter of inner discipline and tuning oneself to the larger Universe. The hatred and rage of the “evil” character blinds him to his own doom and inevitable defeat.
Part of the confusion over the Force is that it seems to run in the Skywalker family. This is not meant to be biological; it is meant to harken back to a sort of medieval conception of kingship, but also to Japanese schools swordsmanship which often past down esoteric knowledge from father to son, or Master to Master. The importance of the Skywalker’s isn’t that they are biological special, it is that they are more in tune with the nature of the Force; they are born to by mythological.
Luke’s training by Yoda accords with both Japanese mythology (Yoda is the master who passes on the Secret Knowledge) and Greek mythology (the hero undergoes a trip into the Underworld and is born anew). It accords with the knightly quest, and more universal mythology of the Hero who must overcome himself and journey to the Centre of the Universe to renew things.
The original movies are about the Redemption of Darth Vader – only the Emperor is truly evil and it is an insane Evil – by the son. Vader is corrected by his fatal flaw – an impatience and need to use his power to change the things for better.
Instead of being loyal to the original source material, they choose to crib and imitate it. Yes, they did a million times better than the Prequels, but I think they let the Star Wars down; its a movie for a dumber audience with a shorter attention span. Arguments to the effect of “really, what else could they do?” ignore the crass market-teering and the cynical greed that powers these new Star Wars movies. They want to appease and distract the Nerd Fanbase, while appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator. These are people who do not understand the importance of the mythology of the thing.
Ray’s use of the Force comes much to fast. There is no way her powers can match that of Kylo Ren, who has received training from Luke Skywalker. The First Order is also much more Fascist and histrionic than the Empire; it’s a more comic villain. I do think Kylo Ren was pretty well done. And a loved Mark Hamill’s appearence at the end of the movie. I can’t help but wishing that the producers would take Star Wars as seriously as I do.