Wednesday 6 January 2016

Generational Conflict in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was wonderful. That said, I'm not a huge Star Wars fan. There is something jarring about science fantasy that doesn't sit well with my own hard SF preferences. I guess that's what happens when, philosophically speaking, you're a miserable materialist. Yet sitting in the cinema this afternoon, I wasn't prepared for the emotional experience seeing the new film turned out to be.

A story. Star Wars was one of the first films I remember seeing. My parents took me to watch The Empire Strikes Back on its original release. Not long after Return of the Jedi hit the cinemas, a pirated betamax also fell into my family's hands. And like many a family in the early 80s, my mum and dad skimped and saved so Santa could leave my brother and I Star Wars toys. The fixation didn't last but it must have helped shape my earliest years in some way, as it did for millions of others. Until watching the trailer last year, I hadn't realised quite how buried it was in my personality as something evocative of nostalgia and memory. Weirdly, there was none of this when the prequels hit the streets. It might have had something to do with them not building on Jedi and filling out the backstory instead, but those badly-acted CGI-fests left me cold. This time, not only did the trailer establish in advance The Force Awakens as a superior effort, it - at least for me - was a direct bridge across 32 years, from now to the cheeky little kid I was when Jedi's credits first rolled. Powerful stuff, and no doubt Disney were counting on it.

That makes writing about the film in dispassionate tones very difficult, so I won't. Force captured the Star Wars feel perfectly, and was everything it needed to be. Yes, it's derivative but no one was expecting a foray into anything else. It was rammed with fan service, cutting edge visuals, stunning cinematography, exceptional acting, and believable, conflicted characters. The family psychodramas are back along with the original cast, the baddies do a fine job as convincing space Nazis and the plot, while nothing new, ties it together seamlessly. It stands with the three original films, and lords it over the prequels.

While I'm sure film theory-types are going to have fun with the familial entanglements and the signifying chains in which new scenes map onto old scenes and subvert them, there's one line of interpretation I want to throw out there. Perhaps I'm sensitive to this as I approach the outer reaches of middle age, but this is a very young movie or, rather, one about thrusting aside older generations for the new. Some tentative thoughts follow, so spoilers from here on in.

First, there's the disappearance of the olds from the scene. C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely about, with the droid honours going to the brilliant and oddly-charismatic BB-8. Luke's off in hiding, Leia's running the show from base, so it's Rey and Fin doing the ass-kicking honours. Han Solo's return doesn't steal the show, but just in case wayward son Kylo Ren goes oedipal and offs him with his fancy light sabre.

The age/generation thing plays out more interestingly with the dark side. Kylo's obsessed with becoming Darth Vader, who also happens to be grandpapa. As the son put paid to Anakin Skywalker, so grandson wants to wreak generational vengeance against his uncle. Though, interestingly, Kylo's internal conflicts is a moment of The Force's many little reversals. Whereas Anakin and Luke are warned by all and sundry about the temptations of the dark side, in this Kylo wrestles with the impulse to be good. He has "forgotten" the travails of his family and rebelled by teaming up with the new empire, who now fashion themselves as the First Order. And this interests me, too. Apart from their "supreme leader", Snoke (who, sadly, reminds me of Gollum), the troops, the lackeys, the officers, they're all young. Chief among them is General Hux, a nasty piece of work with slicked hair, black uniform, and a dark fanaticism that summons every cinematic Nazi of the last 70 years. In the Star Wars universe, it could be a generation determined to re-enact an empire they grew up without. In real life, it might be a wry comment on the absence of historical memory and the kinds of consequences that result.

Overall, there's generational conflict at its heart, and as it pushes out the old and brings in the new, it appeals across generations to get the bums on seats. As far as I'm concerned, it's a must-see; a cultural moment that will be talked about for decades.


Dave K said...

I too thought it was very good. I thought the acting which was never the original films strong suite was way better. Kylo Ren, Rey and particularly Finn were very good. Plus Han and Leia are better actors now then they were back then.
BB8 was exactly the right amount of cutesiness and comic relief to take it from portentousness but at the same time no danger of falling into dancing Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks terratory.
I dont mind that it was quite derivative of A New Hope either. Theres more then enough new stuff to make up for a bit of fan service.
Only one slight criticism. I feel something more imaginative could have been done with the baddies. Too much like a less impressive version of the Empire. At least in the prequels they tried to show you could see how it was hard to identify the villany of Palpatine until its too late. Here they are just jackbooted space nazis, being evil from the get go.

Anonymous said...

It's not really a surprise if Snoke reminds you of Gollum as he's played by Andy Serkis who did Gollum's voice.

Agree with your view on the movie but I'm still in denial about Han Solo's death. Unless I see a head chopped off (eg Ned Stark), I always think there's a chance of a comeback.

John R

Speedy said...

I thought it was OK, but it left me strangely unmoved. I wondered why. I think it was too self-referential (ah here's Han Solo, Princess Leia etc) rather than telling a story, and not nearly dark enough - it was more a homage than a tale. It was, in a word, VANILLA.

David Timoney said...

It's a Disney film, so it marks a transition from Lucas's Freudian obsessions to something more Jungian (Disney has always been big on ye olde archetypes). Ren is a neurotic, while Finn and Rey are both in the process of individuation from confused origins (the names suggest both a collective unconscious and a possible trilemma: Rey > Ren > Finn). Despite the improved gender and race awareness, the critters are still an embarrassment.

Gary Elsby said...

Brilliant in 3D.
It was guaranteed to bring back an entire audience anyway but to bring back originals was a PR coup across the board.
Undoubtedly a throw back to the original 3 films and certainly a script of plot, chase, capture, rescue and demolition.
Star Wars VIII released in 2017 is now guaranteed especially with Luke recruiting Jedi's .
I like the sheer giganticism of the 3D effect especially the shots of warships either buried in the desert or forever coming out of the screen into the audience.
The slaughter of a planet community was nothing new to this series but it took a sinister and dark turn to be enacted before us giving the notion of interplanetary Nazi's serious thought.
A great idea putting a female voice to a senior storm trooper.
All in all, I feel sorry for those who watched in 2D but should keep a generation of children and middle aged men good for years.