First the good news: they didn’t screw it up.
This seventh episode*** slots in neatly, plot-wise and aesthetic-wise, after the original three, following on from Return of the Jedi.
It has a pleasingly throwback, retro feel, rather than the garish yet cold digitised world of George Lucas’ prequels. It’s shot on film and you can feel the dust of the deserts, the snow of the forests and the squeak of the stormtroopers’ costumes.
However, it’s also a film very much in thrall to its own legend, so that the emotional investment is too much in the franchise rather than the characters. Each returning face gets a loud cheer – Han Solo and Chewbacca, C3-PO, even the Millennium Falcon.
It’s still very much a kids’ playground of a movie, a theme park ride. “I always wanted to fly one of these things,” says Oscar Isaac’s rebel pilot Poe, nodding to the franchise as he prepares to steal an enemy aircraft (Tie Fighter?). The aside duly gets its laugh.
As you can possibly tell, I”m no Star Wars fan, never have been, even though I saw the very first one on its very first day of UK release, at the Dominion Tottenham Court Road. I didn’t get it from the get-go, even at seven years-old. Still, you can’t ignore Star Wars and its place in cinema history and I’ve seen them all, apart from the bits in Jedi where I was trying to snog Lisa Engel in the back row of the Granada cinema in Harrow.
I really wanted to enjoy this new one but it’s still, you know, Star Wars. It reminded me a bit of the recent James Bond outing Spectre in that it references and jokes about so many familiar characters and themes in its bid to reboot and prolong (re-awaken) the series. You’ve kind of seen and heard it all before, from the light sabres to the X-Wings, to the space Cantina with the funky band to the big John Williams score to the crappy dialogue about “thermal oscillators”, “ventral cannons” and “bypassing the compressor”. But that’s giving fans what they want, surely, and they won’t be disappointed.
Where JJ Abrams’ new twists come are in the casting, which is a huge success. British unknown John Boyega (I know him, but most fans won’t, and I didn’t know he could do THIS) and Daisy Ridley are both excellent. As Finn, a stormtrooper who’s had enough of the Dark Side, he gives it panic, depth, enthusiasm, energy and wit; playing Rey, she does exactly the same, with a touch of Keira Knightley about her, but the good touches, and a bit more gutsy action. For a newcomer, her confidence in the close-ups is amazing. She’s a great heroine and I look forward to their characters and relationship deepening over the coming movies.
Special mention – though of course no spoiler – amid this new generation must go to Adam Driver as the Vader-type figure, given to temper tantrums and slashing his sabre around on innocent furniture. There’s a genuinely funny moment when a couple of passing storm troopers shuffle away quietly embarrassed, as if to leave their irascible boss to one of his “moments”. Again, I look forward to seeing more of him maybe.
We shouldn’t forget the new droid BB-8, too, because he’s actually quite cute and is certainly key to the story. They’ll sell a lot of BB-8s this Christmas.
I won’t spoil the plot, mainly because I didn’t fully understand it or care about it. There’s a lot of fathers and sons stuff, lots of he’s my boy, he’s his Dad, she’s someone’s daughter.
But the relationship between Harrison Ford’s Han and Carrie Fisher’s Leia is lovely to see and, in a way, this is probably, ultimately, Ford’s movie, which is a good thing and lends it a kind of comfort as well as that trademark Solo sarcasm.
“If you live long enough, you see the same eyes in different people,” says one sage creature in that space bar-Cantina, spotting something lonely in John Boyega’s Finn.
And if you’ve been around long enough, you also see the same film, with different actors. And that’s The Force Awakens.
It’ll be huge, but I still won’t love it any the more. It’s just another movie, from a galaxy, far, far away.