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Star Wars movie review–but not the one you expect

Star Wars movie review–but not the one you expect December 16, 2017

I’ve been working on a series of blog posts on Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation, which was published five years ago and which I finished reading about a year ago. So it probably shouldn’t surprise that I am now writing not about the new Star Wars (which I’m going to see on Tuesday) but the last one, which I only just watched last night (in preparation for seeing the new one). I’d heard a lot of mixed reports on it–many of my friends think that it’s too much of a rehash of previous films. Having watched it, I think that’s true. It’s not a shattering, ground-breaking movie, but I enjoyed it a lot (and probably would have been more impressed on the large screen). I’m certainly looking forward to watching the next one.

Like many people, I particularly liked the story of Finn, the stormtrooper who changes sides. He begins the story without a name except the designation FN-2187. Early in the film, one of his comrades is killed, and reaches up and touches FN-2187 on the helmet, leaving a bloodstained handprint. At this point we only know the character as just another faceless stormtrooper, but the bloodstain individualizes him. A few minutes later, he and he alone refuses to massacre civilians, and eventually helps a Resistance pilot escape. In the fighter, as they are fleeing the “First Order,” the pilot, Poe Dameron, names FN-2187 “Finn,” just before the fighter crashes and Finn believes that Dameron is dead. I wasn’t sure that Dameron would stay dead, and of course he doesn’t–turns out he was thrown from the craft and survived perfectly fine. Apparently the original plan was for him to die, and I think that would have made Finn’s journey from nameless stormtrooper to individualized hero more poignant.

I also really liked the ending, in which Rey finally tracks Luke Skywalker down on a coastline that reminded me vividly of my ancestral Shetland (i believe it’s actually Skellig Michael in Ireland). As I said to someone today, I can put up with nearly anything in a movie that gives me a shot of a windswept landscape overlooking the North Atlantic.

The curse of Star Wars, I think, is Joseph Campbell. His homogenized stereotype of a “hero’s journey” has locked the franchise into certain patterns that it can’t seem to escape. Of course Hollywood blockbusters tend to follow well-worn grooves anyway, but the particular mythic model George Lucas chose has, I think, accentuated that basic tendency of commercial entertainment. This is why George R. R. Martin’s work stands out, I think. It isn’t so much that Martin is “cynical” or “nihilistic” (though of course his vision is very dark), but that he treats his characters as individuals. Their actions fall into certain broad patterns, but the complexity and freedom of real human lives keeps busting the heroic stereotypes apart.

Supposedly the new Star Wars movie is bolder than its predecessor. I’ll find out on Tuesday. But since apparently it starts with more shots of Skellig Michael, I’ll be happy no matter what.


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