‘Return of the Jedi’ is the end of the story. It wraps everything up neatly. The Empire is beaten, the rebels are victorious, Luke is a Jedi, Han and Leia are in love and Darth Vader has found redemption. In 1983 Star Wars was pretty much complete. What we didn’t need were any prequels. But the first three films were episodes IV-VI so there was always a chance that someone would think making episodes I-III would be a good idea.
And they made them.
And it was not such a good idea.
But those prequels did make a lot of money.
So, it was presumably only a matter of time before someone thought sequels would be a good idea.
Particularly as George Lucas sold the rights to Disney. Who are never averse to making money.
But how would it work?
All the main bad guys were dead. The Empire was defeated. What story was there left to tell?
We should have been worried.
But like everyone else, I was actually quite excited when I heard there was going to be a new trilogy. I was particularly excited when I heard the original cast were going to be in it.
And then, in December 2015, we were given ‘The Force Awakens’.
And now for the obligatory spoiler alert:
Spoiler Alert: I’m definitely going to discuss some elements of the plot and this movie only came out four and a half years ago, so you genuinely may not have seen it yet. Although if you haven’t seen it but you have seen the original 1977 movie then you basically have seen ‘The Force Awakens’. Because they are exactly the same.
Well, not exactly the same. But it’s fair to say that JJ Abrams learnt the lessons of the prequel trilogy quite well and he set out to please the fanbase from the off.
But maybe he was a little too focussed on giving the fans what they wanted, because ‘The Force Awakens’ really is a lot like ‘A New Hope’. And maybe that is what the fans wanted but there are times when it feels more like a reboot than a sequel.
Nonetheless, I did really enjoy the movie. And I still enjoy it now when I re-watch it. But I don’t feel like I’m seeing anything new. And say what you like about the prequels, but they were different to the original trilogy.
There is a lot to love about ‘The Force Awakens’. In trying to channel the spirit of the original trilogy (by essentially copying the original trilogy) it really does feel like a Star Wars movie. It’s fast-paced, full of action and the dialogue is so much sharper and wittier than the prequels.
The new characters, Rey, Finn and Poe are immensely likeable and while Kylo Ren does feel like a poor man’s Darth Vader, he is supposed to be a poor man’s Darth Vader. Worrying about ‘not being quite as good as Darth Vader’ is central to his character’s whole identity in this movie. So, we can forgive him for not being quite as good. He does have an interesting looking lightsaber though, which was important from a toy retailer’s perspective if nothing else.
Toy retailers must also have been thrilled that the Storm Troopers look a bit different from the original trilogy too.
It is brilliant to see the return of Han, Leia and Chewie (and to a lesser extent C3P0 and R2D2, because obviously they were inexplicably in all the prequels too). Luke is not really in the movie until the very final scene, although he is referenced a lot throughout the story. His absence was a bit of a kick in the teeth but it set up the next movie nicely (obviously we’ll deal with that movie tomorrow).
As a spectacle, it’s hard to fault the film, but it doesn’t’ stand up to a great deal of scrutiny. The Starkiller Base is basically just another Death Star and we’ve had two of those already. Making it bigger doesn’t make it worse. The Death Star could blow up a planet. The Starkiller Base can blow up several planets simultaneously. Does that make it worse? Technically yes, but really it’s exactly the same thing. At least ‘Return of the Jedi’ had a brilliant showdown between Vader and Luke to offset the fact that it was just another Death Star. The showdown between Kylo Ren and Rey is a perfectly acceptable denouement to ‘The Force Awakens’ but we’re nowhere near as invested in their narrative arks at this point so it holds less value. Perhaps it would have been better to not have been quite so reliant on another Death Star for the climax of this film.
The scene between Kylo Ren and Han is quite powerful, because we are obviously quite invested in Han as a character. His death was quite predictable but no less effective for that.
Aside from that one scene though, it’s all just a lot of lightsabers, spaceships and explosions. This is no bad thing in itself, indeed it’s mainly what I want from a Star Wars movie, but I walked out of the cinema with a lot of questions.
Who is Rey? Who is Snoke? Why, after the Empire fell, are the First Order so powerful (because they seem to be a lot like the Empire but with better funding). How did Ben Solo end up going to the Dark Side and becoming Kylo Ren? And obviously what has happened to Luke?
‘The Force Awakens’ was partly loved because it gave the fans a lot of what they wanted, but it also suggested that what was to follow was going to be even better.
And with the benefit of hindsight, it was less than honest in that respect.
Best character – Rey
I liked all the new characters, but Rey was the most interesting. Yes she does seem to be a bit too good at using the force, according the rules established in previous films and she’s obviously way too old to be trained to become a Jedi, but she can fly the Millennium Falcon like nobody’s business and she’s pretty handy in a fight even without a lightsaber. Plus the mystery surrounding her backstory is interesting. Obviously the subsequent movies would manipulate that intrigue to take us on the most unwanted of rollercoaster rides but that element of mystery does help to establish her as a compelling character in this movie .
Worst Character – Captain Phasma
Gwendoline Christie is great in ‘Game of Thrones’ and she deserves better than she’s given here. Phasma looks really cool, but is essentially just another action figure waiting to be sold. She promised a lot in the build up to the movie but on-screen she doesn’t really do anything much.
Unsung Hero – Chewie
I never thought he was especially overlooked in the original movie, (he got to stand on the stage afterall – maybe they just didn’t have enough medals to give out – the rebellion was quite cash-strapped I’d imagine) but Chewie does get a bit overlooked in this one, with everything else that is going on. But without his timely arrival in the Millenium Falcon, Rey and Finn would have perished on the soon-to-explode Starkiller Base. Also, prior to that, he sets off the explosives that take out the shield that was stopping the Resistance from blowing the thing up in the first place, and this shortly after seeing his best mate get murdered. And he shoots and seriously injures Kylo Ren, which probably contributes to Rey beating him in their subsequent lightsaber dual. So Chewie is fundamental to the success of the Resistance and no-one really seems to notice. Although no-one gets a medal this time around because the Resistance appear to be even less financially solvent than the Rebellion was.
And that’s all I’ve got to say on ‘The Force Awakens’. Tune in tomorrow to find out whether I was one of the people who loved ‘The Last Jedi’ or one of the people who hated it. Because there’s no middle ground on that one apparently.