The first good Star Wars film of my life time has arrived!
It would be fair to say that not every Star Wars fan appreciated George Lucas’ decision to go back and redo the special effects in the original trilogy. Indeed ‘the special editions’, as they became known, were one of the reasons that Star Wars fans – uniquely among fandoms – talk about the creator of their obsession with derision. Yet for me ‘the special editions’ are Star Wars. Had they not been made I never would have gotten to see the Star Wars trilogy – at the time it was still the trilogy – in a cinema. And had that not happened I doubt it would have made such an impression. If you are eight then Darth Vader is probably scary on any size screen. But when he’s lifesize and Dolby surround sound makes it seem like he’s behind you, he’s terrifying. I couldn’t watch the scene from the Empire Strikes Back where he toys with Luke Skywalker. Yet I immediately knew I wanted to see it again.
That experience begat an obsession. First, I collected some Star Wars pogs. Then my parents bought me the trilogy on VHS and I rewatched them obsessively. And then I discovered the books that made up the ‘
extended expanded universe’. Indeed for much of my teens I was writing what would now be called ‘fanfic’ – only being something of a slow adopter I wrote mine in notebooks rather than online. That doesn’t make me the ardent Star Wars lover by any stretch of the imagination but that just shows you how truly fanatical some fans are. For the formative years of my life when my mind wondered it tended to go to a galaxy far far away and the friends I made tended to be people with whom I could discuss the series.
Now those of you familiar with the history of Star Wars will notice there’s something I haven’t mentioned. My period of greatest devotion to the franchise coincided with the release of the first new films in a decade. This wasn’t quite the trauma for me that it was for some fans. I wasn’t yet a sophisticated enough viewer to digest quite how bad they were. And I appreciated the avalanche of new toys and books they precipitated. But I knew there was something missing. Whereas the original trilogy was endlessly rewatchable, the Phantom Menace was instantly forgettable.
Except geek culture has not forgotten that moment. The disappointment of waiting so long for something derisory has lingered over the run up to the Force Awakens. Sure the marketing campaign – which has been scarily effective – made it look awesome but was that just setting us up to be deflated again?
Having now seen the Force Awakens, I am happy to report there is little risk of that. It’s the best Star Wars film since at least the Empire Strikes Back. Perhaps even the best ever. As I see reviews and speak to others about it I may pick up on mistakes or missed opportunities. But walking out of the cinema I had no complaints. This was precisely the film I (and I suspect many others) had been hoping for.
After three sterile prequels we now have a Star Wars sequel with blood in its veins. There are glances in this film that convey more humanity than the entire prequel trilogy. It made me grin and gave me goosebumps more than any other film I’ve seen this year. A sense of joy permeates the Force Awakens much as the force does the fictional universe. But that is balanced by real moments of darkness and dread. So it gets big emotions but manages them without being mawkish or melodramatic.
It harnesses the mythology of the series rather than being bogged down by it. Instead of slowing down to justify itself it bounds along, and as it goes shows us the immensely rich universe in a way that feels familiar yet is still fresh. That extends to its use of the classic characters who are reintroduced but as supporting players to the new characters who will carry the series forward. And on the evidence of the Force Awakens I look forward to seeing a lot more of them.
So thank you J.J! All hail Disney! Roll on Rogue One and Episode VIII! May the force be with you each and every one!