In terms of hype and speculation, Star Wars films provide a unique masterclass; George Lucas practically reinvented and revolutionised a whole genre, business and industry.
However, in recent memory and not in a galaxy too far far away Star Wars films have had as many lows (all the lacklustre prequels) as they have had highs (Empire Strikes Back).
So was all the hype and excitement surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens? To quote Han Solo: “It’s true, all of it.” Well, not quite, and in the voice of Yoda, “true, partially it seems”.
It is true to say Disney were right (for them) to buy Lucas Films and in doing so take ownership of the most popular space adventure of all time, the Star Wars franchise. They were also correct in hiring J.J. Abrams who did a fantastic job rebooting and re-energising Star Trek (2009). He has gone further here, perfectly recapturing the spirit and feel of the original Star Wars trilogy, infusing the characters (Jar-Jar Binks fans weep), with humour and warmth, whilst orchestrating and balancing the action and adventure.
There are many great things about The Force Awakens. Notably the action and cinematography, and the introduction of fresh new characters: Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Poe, and BB-8 (R2D2 and for the millennials) – all wonderful additions to the Star Wars universe.
Nods to the past are none more evident than the welcome return of most of the familiar faces from the original trilogy : Han Solo (grey wood personified), Princess Leia (post abdication she is now General Leia and owner of an entirely new face), Luke (following the collapse of his Jedi business, he’s absconded to a tax haven somewhere in the Atlantic), Chewbacca (not a split end or grey hair in sight), C3PO (he’s gone all Hell Boy with his red arm) and R2D2 (he’s in robo-coma-mode). Even Darth Vader makes a brief appearance (think Bishop II from Alien 3, but without the voice).
It borrows heavily (and I mean HEAVILY) from the original trilogy, especially the story, right down to the Oedipus struggles between father and son – this time its Han Solo and his very very angry son, Kylo Ren – he’s very angry.
The writing and direction is much improved and it was refreshing to see J.J. Abrams take inspiration from George Lucas when it came to casting, giving the main roles to largely unknown actors and actresses. The films strengths are certainly carried by the fantastic new comers, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega.
The main downsides of the films is that it offers nothing new, its as if J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark) wrote the screenplay in conjunction with the finance and marketing departments – if something isn’t broken, why try to fix and change it. George Lucas tried that and in cinematic rather than financial terms he failed. Disney wanted both a hit with the fans and share holders. In that sense they succeeded, but they also delivered a film overly nostalgic to the point of making you feel depressed.
Who wants to see their heroes fade, and in some cases die – John Wayne had to in The Shootist, but he was on the verge of death from cancer. Hans Solo departure summoned a sense of relief, as viewers were in danger of getting splinters from Harrison Fords performance. But, it is the overall wallowing in nostalgia that simply makes you feel like your day has passed.
If nothing else it is the narcissistic self that tells us that a little part of us is dying too – we are no longer that young, naive youth with bountiful of energy, hope and optimism. You would certainly have to be naive to believe that an army (The New Order), with just a passing resemblance to the Nazi’s circa 1940, with the most powerful weapon in the universe, and with a military the size to make both the US and Russian military top brass wince, would put Captain Phasma in charge of its elite forces. Surely such a post would require as a minimum that you do not get kidnapped on your own battle station. Something that seems to escape Captain Phasma when she is captured with ease and without a fight by fledgling Jedi, Finn (ex-stormtrooper) and the semi-retired Han Solo.
Star Wars was always about escapism, but for many of us The Force Awakens tells us that there is one thing that none of us can escape and that is death. So for all the visual splendour, fine debuts and fantastic new characters, Star Wars for me begun in 1974 and ended in 1983, much like some of the the best times of my life.