The Force Awakens

I think for people of a certain generation Star Wars represents an awful lot more than just a trilogy of good films followed by a trilogy of poor ones. The first three movies really defined the culture of my childhood. I played with the toys as a five year old, and I bemoaned having ever opened the boxes when getting them valued in my late teens. Even before I’d seen all the films I recall a Christmas where I got an X wing with stick on battle damage. The box didn’t stay with me for long, I can tell you. The first drawing I did at school which my Mum still has depicts a light sabre battle between Luke and Darth Vader. I was a fan of the first three films by virtue of age.


The thrill of getting one of these as a kid can’t be put into words


The second three we’ll gloss over, like the spell you had with a bad girlfriend you’d rather forget. It happened, we know it happened but to talk about it might make you realise how awful it was and how much you resent those times for offering false hope. I wasn’t a fan of those films by virtue of the fact they were incredibly poor.

So here we are in 2016 with a brand new film released a good 38 years after the original. How could it possibly catch the rather distinct world created in a day before big special effects without looking dated? How could actors who received their bus pass several years ago recapture those young starlets whose images were captured on numerous toys in my toy box? Can the memory of that bad girlfriend be erased by your returning childhood sweetheart, and more importantly is she as bloody fit as you remember from school?

Now I don’t want to bring too many spoilers to the table, so I’ll talk only briefly of the plot. It has to be said there is a sense of déjà vu with most of the twists and turns. It’s well known that the lead character Raey is a Scavenger on a dusty planet as was Luke in the original. There’s a plan to destroy planets from the bad guys and a plot to foil it by the good guys. There’s a droid with a hidden message about a missing key character. It’s fair to say the writing may have included lots of ‘copy and paste’ moments.

That’s not to say it’s bad. There’s humour in much of it, and many a hat tip to the original in key scenes. Late on there’s a father son moment that echoes a previous film too: these guys like having their Jeremy Kyle moments on narrow boardwalks over a gaping abyss, trust me.

The new characters offer something a little more substantial than Natalie Portman et al in the turgid middle three films. I’m not a fan of Finn if I’m honest. By now you’ll probably (hopefully) know a new plot line is the storm trooper with a soft side, and for me it doesn’t really hit the sweet spot. His turmoil is clear in an early battle scene, but it’s handled in a clumsy fashion. His turn to the light is quick in order to fit with the films pace, which leads you to wonder how a child brainwashed and bred for life as a storm trooper can suddenly think one morning ‘this isn’t for me’ and flee. Plus as an elite killer trained by the most evil private army in the galaxy he’s not that convincing in the battles. He’s well acted of course, but the revelation he worked in sanitation didn’t surprise me given how much the character stinks.

Rey, BB-8 and Finn.


The jury is out on Rey too. The actress Daisy Ridley is little known and appears to do a stellar if not standout job as the poor girl from Jakku. Early scenes had me thinking Lara Croft, but as the film develops the character shows slightly more vulnerability than early doors, when she is as tough as a Kray twin. I’m sure she will develop as a lead character though, and the big questions for the next film are centred on her. That’s a lot of sci-fi nerd weight to carry on her inexperienced shoulders.

However of the other major new characters, two really did it for me. Kylo Ren is absolutely excellent as a troubled and angst ridden young man getting to grips with life on the dark side. He is pure evil but provides many classic baddie moments, and his temper fits and desire to be like his granddad Darth were compelling and amusing.  I think the meeting between him and Raey will be crucial as the story develops over the next two films, as the relationship between Luke and Darth was last time.

Kylo Ren


The big star though is the BB-8 unit carrying the hidden message. It may be aping R2D2 but advances in animation have enabled so much more personality that he makes the original droid look as wooden as Dusty Bin. The whole relationship between him and his X wing pilot master Poe Damaron is touching and believable….. as believable as a love between man and robot can be.

The big attraction though is the returning stars of the original film. I couldn’t help but give my girlfriend a little nudge as they made their appearances one by one I was delighted in a way you might be at the reunion of your old school friends. Han, Leia and Chewie were my play mates as a child and to see what they’ve been up to was both a thrill and slightly emotional. C3P0 emerged with a red arm and you knew he was the same careless fussing lump of gold he was before. Han was still a rogue but perhaps a little more battle weary, but it was still Han Solo.

As for Mark Hammill, you do see him briefly. He resembles a man who knows his way around a soup kitchen and could tell you a beer soaked story about every park bench Tatooine, although I suspect he’ll have to wait until May 2017 to even consider picking up any awards as a supporting actor.

Crucially none of the original characters feel like they’re being wheeled on purely as a gimmick, they’re all integral to the plot and for me the reason that the film will delight so many. When R2 fires up after the intermission (or for those watching in a modern cinema in the second bit) I actually cheered. I cheered, a grown man of 37 watching a science fiction film. Never before have I felt more like I should be on the Big Bang Theory sofa.

Save a seat for me boys


The presentation of the film is spot on as well. There’s enough fresh special effects to make this feel like a film from the last year, but enough nods to the originals to really feel like a natural sequel. The scrolling yellow text at the beginning, the way some scenes fade into others and even the whoosh of a light sabre are all faithful to the first three films. There’s a feeling here you are watching the natural fourth film, and it feels good. You begin to forget how they were tarnished by Jah Jah and all that political rubbish. You begin to forget the last time you watched them you probably still got pocket money. You begin to feel like that younger person watching these great films in your youth. That is a sure sign that JJ Abrams has done exactly the job he needed to. He’s brought Star Wars home.

I really like the juxtaposition of the First Order and the Resistance, in much the same direct contrast as The Empire and the Rebel Aliance. The scenes featuring the good guys are colourful and set on leafy planets with bright colours and bags of personality. Contrasting the evil First Order with one of the Weasley boys giving ginger a bad name as the sinister General Hux, always set against dark or cold backdrops. The scenes in the snow announcing the arrival of a new weapon felt very much like something out of Nazi Germany – there’s no blurred lines in these films. There is always a very clear and defined good and bad, the dark side and (I suppose) the light side. I think that’s perhaps why Finns character doesn’t really work for me. There’s always a battle between the force and the dar side, but those stories are played out over a couple of films at least, they’re built upon and given context and character. To see a minion, a mere sanitation storm trooper suddenly turning good doesn’t really fit with the way these things develop in these films.

All in I can’t really enthuse enough about this return to form for the series. If you weren’t a fan of the first three films then there’s a lot less here for you there is for a follower of the franchise. The story is predictable and its charm does partly lay in an assumption you know the old characters. Outside of this it’s a reasonable space romp with a few laughs, nothing more.

However those who like the Star Wars universe and weren’t completely turned off by Jah Jah Binks will surely love it. I found myself in my kitchen a couple of hours after the film humming the theme tune and swishing my metophorical light sabre (not a euphemism) around the kitchen. The Force had awakened in me too. I’m just hoping my partner doesn’t mind me filling the spare room with all of the toy I couldn’t get access to as a six year old.

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