Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Force Awakens

Everyone on the Internet has their own opinion, of course (and is writing about that opinion, to boot...), but the title for the next Star Wars installment has officially been announced: The Force Awakens (2015).

Here's my two-cents (*approximate value*): the title feels a little...soft. 

There is no "revenge," no "attack" and no "striking back" going on here. 

A key aspect of the Star Wars saga has always been the steadfast focus on intense, dynaic action (think the speeder chase in ROTJ or the AT-AT strike on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back). 

The Force Awakens doesn't continue that action-driven title legacy.

There's also no indication of the franchise's pulp inspiration here. A lot of folks didn't like the title The Phantom Menace, but love it or hate it, that title sounded legitimately like a 1930s chapter-play, and just the kind of production George Lucas based Star Wars on to create his pastiche in the first place. It felt right, especially given the 1930s, Art Deco appearance of Coruscant and the Old Republic.

And as of yet, there's also no real artistic symmetry with The Force Awakens, either. By that I mean that the first trilogy ended in Return of the Jedi, and the prequel trilogy ended with Revenge of the Sith.  

There's a reflection, or balance there, for certain.  One side, light or dark, is making a triumphant move (either vengeance or restoration) in each final chapter.  

There is no symmetry here with The Phantom Menace, either.

A caveat: There *may* be some sense of symmetry with the title A New Hope, which could translate, I suppose, to Hope Awakens. But you have to really intellectualize The Force Awakens to come up with that connection. 

And besides, A New Hope was added as a sub-title well after a hard-action-sounding movie called Star Wars was a blockbuster success. It's a good thing too, because "A New Hope" isn't particularly exciting as a chapter header. 

What does The Force Awakens state as a title?
Alas, I suspect it is a coded message to old-school fans that the movie is pretty much going to be a rehash of the OT, based on J.J. Abrams' feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality for it. It's also a not exactly subtle swipe at the prequel trilogy. That feels a little craven, a little commercial, a little desperate to me.  Like those films or not, the prequels are part of the Star Wars experience at this point.

The new title sort of says, "The Force was sleeping but now...

....It's baaaaaaack!!!!"

Lastly, on a nuts-and-bolts level, The Force Awakens doesn't make a tremendous amount of sense. Is The Force a sentient thing that slumbers?  

If the title were The Dark Side Awakes, that might be different, and somewhat more specific. The Force Awakens is so generic (and again, soft...) as to mean nothing.

So I'm sure I'll love the movie. I'm a big defender -- no apologies, no back-tracks -- of Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) and it had a lousy title.

But at this point, I feel the title of Episode VII is a bit vanilla.  

As always, I'm open to contrary arguments and opinions.


  1. For me, the ship sailed long ago. I really have zero interest in Star Wars now.

  2. George Lucas baffles me because he was so adamant about the story ending with Episode VI, but in the past he's stated plans for 9 or even 12 films. I've always heard the "third" trilogy would deal more with moral and philosophical issues. Do you think they are starting from scratch with The Force Awakens or did Lucas have some grand vision?

    1. Hi Eric,

      I have read different accounts Gary Kurtz, Lucas's former producer, has said that there was no grand plan, even beyond the original Star Wars. But of course, going back to as early as 1978, I remember reading about Lucas's intent to do nine films. I think that, as usual, life is messy. At some point, early on, Lucas realized there could be a whole nine-part saga. I know he is a consultant on the new film, so we've got to assume that he's seen, if not approved, the new title, the new story, etc.

    2. Good points, life does happen. Maybe getting married again brought about his change of heart. I think he did the right thing in letting a new generation continue the story.

  3. Yeah, those chaptered serials from the '30s and '40s. Word's like "ghost", "serpent", "phantom" or "revenge" ..."danger", "flying", "attack" or "strike" were quite ubiquitous during that era. I never understood why people harped so much on the Prequel titles. All arguments aside about the movies themselves, 'The Phantom Menace' was perfectly in-line in evoking a kind of pulpy sinister element, while 'Attack of the Clones' is not an ounce different in aesthetics from 'The Empire Strikes Back'.

    The content of the title 'The Force Awakens' is fine. It might seem nonsensical now but I'm willing to reserve judgment until the actual storyline fills in the blanks. The question here is more about tone. It's not quite 'Dawn of Justice' or 'Age of Extinction' or 'Age of Ultron' and at least they didn't throw "rise" in there somewhere. But there is still that lingering sense of the rote contemporary, as if Disney/Abrams were too afraid to go full Star Wars, so to speak, curtailing the retro-pulp style in all its glory so as to not garner chagrined snarks from today's 'too-cool-for-school' cynical sensibility—ages 17 up to the 'mother's basement' man-child demographic.

    In short, it sounds like a marketing title; like a safe middle-ground agreed upon by a room full of studio execs; like some higher-up scribbled on a whiteboard 'The Force Unleashed' and 'Batman Begins' and said, "Okay, folks, lets synergize!"

    But, hey, nitpick, nitpick, right? One other thing... Father? The Sleeper has awakened!

    Am I the only one noticing this?

    1. Hi Cannon

      Nice catch on the allusion to 1984's Dune. At least there, we had a personality (Atreides) who was asleep, and waking up to a new perspective on the cosmos (and the spice), and power itself. I don't see how the Force awakes or slumbers.

      Like you, I'm not writing the film off at this point. That's illogical, to crib a term from Star Trek. I still have high hopes the film will be fantastic, but I just feel that The Force Awakens feels, as you say, like corporate-speak. It isn't particularly true to the past of Star Wars titling (as I note above), nor it is surprising or unusual. Just a very safe, very bland, very vanilla choice

      But the film can still rock, and I am in no way writing it off, only noting that the title isn't a great sign that the saga is charting a blazing, exciting, fresh path. The folks who complained about "Disneyfication" of the Star Wars films are the ones today, at this early juncture, who must feel vindicated. "The Force Awakens" is about as generic and safe a choice as one could imagine.

    2. @ I never understood why people harped so much on the Prequel titles. All arguments aside about the movies themselves, 'The Phantom Menace' was perfectly in-line in evoking a kind of pulpy sinister element, while 'Attack of the Clones' is not an ounce different in aesthetics from 'The Empire Strikes Back'.

      I hate to say this (and it's the old fogy in me) but the (mostly) young people who've been blasting the trilogy online (and who sadly are the ones that the public listened to about it, thus their perceptions became everybody else's) have no sense of history about movies or other types of popular culture. This is why the titles of the prequel trilogy were blasted and dissed, and the trilogy itself was blasted and dissed-it was too old for them, and they knew nothing about (and didn't want to do any research on) the older pulp movies that influenced the prequel trilogy. (They also expected the characters to be as dysfunctional, cynical, and messed up as the character of most of the independent movies that the critics love, and also of the characters on the 2004-2009 Battlestar Galactica, but that's another rant for another time.)

  4. Anonymous10:18 AM

    Yeah, the ship sailed for me, too. Pretty much as soon as Star Wars became Episode IV.

    Sure, the whole story about how Vader became Vader is pretty stupid. And the only way to justify Grevious is to harken back to the pulp serials where there was a new danger every week.

    But all that pales beside the lost possibilities inherent in the Clone Wars.

    What I would have preferred was thematic content along the lines of whether it's better to take your best solider and make a million of him (clones), or to take each soldier and make him the best he can be (Jedi). Of course, Joe Campbell prevents this. Even so, allying the clones and Jedi vs. the droids is really silly. They could at least have ruminated on what effect a clone has on the Force, or whether a Jedi can be cloned, etc.

  5. When I first heard about this title, I immediately thought of A New Hope. Perhaps Abrams was trying to begin the new trilogy with a soft title and have progressively more dynamic titles as the story arc progresses. While I am certainly skeptical about anything Disney does given it's highly commercial business model, I can't imagine Abrams settling for a weak title like this if he had something better in mind. Perhaps the title is meant ironically and the story will reveal some dimension of the Force that we have not previously known. Awakening the Force might turn out to be a bad thing. Can't wait to see what happens.

  6. I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't too impressed with the new title, although as usual, John, you articulated your feelings better than I managed. (In my own blog entry on the subject, I just said I thought the tone was off and it didn't echo the pulpy episode titles of the Flash Gordon serials from which Star Wars derived in the first place.) I have run across a (alleged) leaked plot line for which this title would be appropriate, if not terribly enticing, and in the end it is only a title. We'll see. I'm trying very hard to remain optimistic that Abrams will manage to strike a balance between reverence for the original trilogy while also pushing the franchise into some brave new territory, but alas, I just don't believe he's the man to do it. I know you enjoyed his take on Star Trek but it really, utterly failed in my eyes... I fear he'll do no better with Star Wars, and possibly even worse, if he approaches the material from too fannish a standpoint. Again, we'll see....

  7. Anonymous4:58 PM

    The new Star Wars film will inevitably be the movie nerd event of the decade. I am not too fanatical about SW anymore. Maybe I will like the new film. Maybe it needs ten years to mature. Reading this blog has given me the ability to appreciate the prequel trilogy as 30's adventure movies, and very fun such films.


  8. The worst thing about the last trilogy was not the movie titles. It was the stories. I can forgive a good movie for having a bad title but I find it a bit hard to forgive a bad movie which has a good title. Indeed, I was told in high school by a fellow student that it is a very bad idea to obsess too much about the perfect title if you don't have a good story to go with it.

  9. Not a 'Star Wars' fan. Enjoyed the original trilogy as a child, but I've never recovered from jar-jar binks. I would have had more respect for the franchise if it ended at 'Return'. Everything since has been a not so blatant cash grab.
    However..... I am sold on Mr. Abrams. After the amazing Trek reboot, with him at the helm, 'Awakens' is now a must-see.