I distinctly remember going to see the very first Star Wars film all the way back in 1977. It was the first time I had ever gone to The Pictures and I was a little less than 3 and a half years old. I remember being amazed by the special effects even then and the rousing music and the battles and it set me up for a life-time of enjoying going to the cinema and enjoying science fiction though in many ways Star Wars is more Science Fantasy.
I must have watched Star Wars over a thousand times by the early 80’s our house being extremely early adopters of betamax video tapes and it was quite possible to watch it several times in a day. I even got to recognise the goofs way before I saw The Empire Strikes Back.
I really like The Empire Strikes Back, I think it was my favourite Star Wars film. The At-Ats and chase through the asteroid field, the way Darth Vader goes through Admirals quicker than I go through toilet roll and best of all that moment when Han Solo decides to attack the Super Star Destroyer.
Return of The Jedi was great too, the battles, the new Death Star. Darth Vader against Luke, The Emperor. I still chuckle when Darth Vader warns his officer to redouble their efforts as The Emperor is visiting and he isn’t as forgiving as Darth himself is.
Then there was a long break. I remember spending much of my teenage years wondering why George Lucas wasn’t making more films. Star Wars were three films to be sandwiched between two other prequels except that he later decided it wasn’t and so it remained until 1999.
Wow, The Phantom Menace. That was a film wasn’t it? It made lots of people wish George Lucas hadn’t bothered to return to his universe at all. I remember being underwhelmed by the first 10 minutes and thinking to myself how it had to improve but no, it was uniformly awful, made little sense and our office party of 15 people all agreed it was the worst let down in the film-going world that we had ever known. The only part I wasn’t disappointed was the bit I fell asleep during. Imagine, waiting for a new film for over 15 years and then to find it so boring that I slept through parts of it and at a 6.30pm screening.
The following two films weren’t much better, each got better and had its moments that were comparable to sections of the old films but none were the old films or close to them. Personally I would have started the story at the second film but made them entirely different. I found out this week about the Machete method of watching Star Wars… to watch them all in numeric order starting with the second film and ignoring the first entirely.
Is there a point to all this? I’m not sure except to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is fantastic and is a success in every way that the prequel trilogy is not. I loved every moment and there were only one or two minor quibbles.
The Force Awakens is a huge amount of fun. It’s slick, it’s exciting and most brilliantly it’s funny, like laugh out loud funny. I laughed in several places and not in a cringing manner like I would have done in the prequel films… if only they had been half as good as this.
The story is set 30 years after Return of The Jedi, The Empire is no more but out of its remnants a group called The First Order is swallowing up star systems and freedoms in a way that Darth Vader would have been proud of. The galaxy is in need of a hero but Luke Skywalker is missing and the best pilot in the resistance Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is on a mission to recover a map which could lead to his location.
Throughout the way he is joined by Finn, John Boyega, a disillusioned Storm Trooper and Rey, Daisy Ridley) who peddles junk on a remote waste heap of a planet.
The chief face of evil is Kylo who is set to be the new Darth Vader and he is suitably dressed all in black with a very cool robotic delivery too.
The dialogue in the film is great, natural and slick which was barely the case in the original Star Wars films, let alone the prequels which were awful. Whilst we have a fun little BB8 droid, there are no Jar-Jars or idiotic sounding Yoda’s in this film. Everyone speaks like an adult human being.
A third of a way through the film,, the big guns come in to play in the form of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). They are still the highlight of the film, so much fun and not much if anything has changed in their characters or relationship. In the trailer, Han says that they have come home but really it is us who are home as well. The character of Han plays a very similar role to Leonard Nimoy in the new Star Trek series.
Han’s still running away from his responsibilities, Leia (Carrie Fisher) is still a fervent leader, but both have been through a lot in the last 30 years and they wear it well. They are interwoven with these new characters so expertly you see awesome new relationships form.
There are lots of similarities with some of the earlier Star Wars films and some things I’ve always wanted to see such a the giant remains of the crashed Super Star Destroyer. Almost everything is familiar but slightly modernised from the Storm Troopers to the X-Wings, Tie-Fighters, lightsabers and blasters. A new female Storm Trooper officer who is female and looks very much like a Cylon and various other touches that draw from classic Sci-Fi films and TV shows.
The locations are incredible and the effects and the sets are mind blowing. I was stunned at the amount of real sets and in camera alien characters there were. This is great to see, the film obviously has a lot of CGI in it, but Star Wars: The Force Awakes doesn’t lean on it so heavily like the prequels did. Everything looks real and not computerised.
The Force Awakens is a great film and stands well on it’s own but ties in well with the original series. It’s a massive jump start for the Star Wars franchise with new characters, along with the old forging a new saga that will hopefully continue to be as entertaining and this first instalment.
Even the digital characters here are well rounded and looked great too especially Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) who fulfils the wise Yoda like sage role but with none of the annoying characteristics that came to the fore of the prequels. Even BB8 is able to use his droid body and head to give the impression of emotions but in a non-annoying way.
Harrison Ford was for me the stand-out actor in the film but he was very closely pushed by Daisy Ridley who play Rey. She put in a tremendous performance and I loved her increasingly gutsy character. I thought Kylo Ren was great too at least whilst he was masked, whilst Darth Vader was always cool and calm, Kylo has some definite anger management issues.
All being said I really loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens but there were one or two minor bits that I thought could have been improved. Kylo Ren is a great baddie when masked but I thought actor Adam Driver when unmasked was a terrible let-down and also could really do with a hair-cut. Similarly the General who works with Kylo Ren was very weak and had no stature. Out of all the great British actors, how did they come to this guy? Someone a little older would have been much better.
Actor John Boyega, I have watched for several years since I first saw Attack The Block, a cheap but brilliant British sci-fi film about the residents of a gang-ridden and run-down housing estate taking on aliens. Why does he have an American accent? Especially so when Daisy had a British accent, though not her own. I know that only evil people leading figures from the Core Planets have British accents whilst the gun-slinger cowboy rebels and storm-troopers have American accents but still? Interesting Daisy speaks with Received Pronunciation which isn’t her natural way of speaking just as Ewan Macgregor did in the prequel films. I hope it isn’t because the producers felt people can’t associate black actors with being British? Yes he has a strong London accent but then in the attack on StarKiller base a resistance pilot has a very strong NW England accent. It makes no sense.
On a personal note, I also guessed the main point that will have everyone my age talking about which is a little disappointing but I think it does suit the story in a way and will go a long way to making the next two films a great ride. Also blink and you will miss Luke Skywalker but again it suits the trilogy and I must say if I didn’t know her character was going to be in the film, then I wouldn’t even have recognised her. I’m shocked at how Carrie Fisher looks today. I look more like I did in 1977 than she does with her adult self and I was 3 then.
Finally, I’ve always had geographic connections with Star Wars. The original trilogy were made at Elstree Studios just 5 miles from home whilst much of the prequels were made at Leavesden where I live now and the woods of Naboo are Cassiobury Woods just 2 or 3 miles from my home. Nothing though quite prepared me for the wonderful surprise of seeing The Lake District on Star Wars. You can see one of my recent posts about my holiday there The Lake District and see in a non-spoilers way how it looks in Star Wars. I think its the most beautiful place in the world and obviously it ranks highly with J.J. Abrams too.
I will definitely go and see this film again. For me, this is what the prequels should have been. I really can’t fault it at all so I’m not sure how George Lucas got them all so wrong. Whilst I have misgivings that Disney will milk Star Wars to death, I’m still going to look forward to the next two films at least. 10 out of 10 – The Force is strong with this one.