“Centuries of marriage carry centuries of baggage” –The Wolf Among Us (2014)
Spoilers ahead, captain!
Goddamn, where do you even begin. In 1977, at the release of the first film? That was 38 years ago. Almost four decades ago, the film that bit off Akira Kurosawa, ruined the New Hollywood Movement and promptly captured the odd fascination with fables combined with our newer odd fascination with the endless abyss in the sky, arrived on our screens. Maybe start off with Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958), the film that both inspired Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and its later, more unloved brother, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace?
Maybe start with the prequels themselves in that case, George Lucas’s frankly hated creations which on one hand, are the beautiful monstrosities which my generation is saddled with, or hell, even begin with LucasArts acquisition in 2012 by Disney, our Endless Fun Inc. corporate overlords. Fuck I mean, what is there to say about this series of movies which genuinely pervade Western culture that hasn’t been said already?
That said, I’ll say some shit about it now.
This film has so much riding on it. In fact, the battle between the light and the dark side seems rather small in comparison to the fight to save the cinema from the baying hordes of Youtube, digitisation of everything and the fact that “why even go to the cinema when you can just Netflix everything in a dead brain binge before you cry and sleep?”
What with celluloid almost hitting its swan song, before being saved by this film’s director (among others), a certain J.J Abrams, and dwindling ticket sales, kept up by tent pole releases, film is in a little bit of a rough patch of sea. What with high production TV, triple AAA video games, and just general heavy real life news, film suddenly looks like an old-timer in a very manic new game. So is this the saviour, the restoring force to the power of cinema, the sudden dragging forth of the realisation that cinema still has a lot to offer?
Honestly, I lean towards yes.
Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens is good. It’s a really really good movie. For kids, it might just be the spark for the new generation to love this space opera. For the old generation of diehards, they’ll be convinced its in good hands. For the general film going public, its excellent and provides genuine thrills.
There is nothing inherently wrong with it. Besides Carrie Fisher being a little hammy, everything in the film works on the level of good. The plot is simple, the acting convincing, the sets well designed and the world beautifully realised.
Oh hang on I just wrote a summary of A New Hope. Except I didn’t.
Man, this film. The second half of this film is A New Hope again. And the first half is just world building for the trilogy. Every character hits every perfunctory note, though props to them not literally re-using the same characters, even if everyone in this series is ruined or saved by their family ties again. They do the Death Star again, but this time its bigger. THAT IS A LITERAL ANIME TROPE. TO DO THE SAME ENEMY AGAIN BUT BIGGER THIS TIME. It apes every part of the old films, extrapolating and mechanically mining them for inspiration and meta-jokes, so much so that they almost do the trench-run again. I’m all one for nostalgia, homage, tipping your hat and dipping your oyster (one of those was made up) but goddamn when I went into this film, last night with a tin bucket of the droids and a Kylo Ren drinking cup from the cinema, I said to my friend, “Wouldn’t this be hilarious if it was just a re-imagining of Star Wars?…Oh god I hope it’s not just a re-imagining of Star Wars.”
It was. It was a re-imagining of Star Wars. And fucking hell, 38 years of legacy, and this is what they came up with.
But of course! After all, what worked in the past? Star Wars did! So Disney, without a shred of irony, disguised themselves just enough to do Star Wars again. J.J Abrams slipped from fan-fiction into straight up Xeroxing the script and inserting his own lines where necessary. But seriously, this is the most anticipated film release frankly ever! Did anyone expect any different? I did, and so was hilariously blindsided.
I’m not talking Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth” stuff here either, the whole “every story is the same story”, I mean this is really really almost the same story as the original. You would think that after literally partying the Empire away in Return of the Jedi, the Rebels would now be in power, but no, they’re still somehow the underdogs, now affectionately called The Resistance, while all the classic familial tensions and searching for mystics (Luke) to teach them returns. The only thing of course, is that there’s even less meat on this bone, because the original Star Wars worked as its own film, its own enclosed narrative, this film is merely Act 1 in the planned trilogy. So what little is there, is the stepping stone for the new generation, rather than a bold leap forward.
The reason for this, is the stakes. The stakes of cinema rested on this. If this had been a damp squib of a film, if it had divided opinion like the prequels, I would have genuinely feared for the state of film. This needed to be a return to form, the entire business of film rested on it being a resounding success.
And so, in modern cinematic terms it has. It has enraptured critics (currently holding a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), selling nothing short of a bajillion tickets, and pleasing, well almost everyone, every disparate group which is going to be linked by this film and its legacy. And its good! It’s entertaining, It’s funny, very funny, very aware of its history, a few nods cinematically which I appreciated (Max Von Sydow and the guy from The Raid ! HOORAY!). It looks beautiful, no expense is spared and it begs borrows and steals to the point of creative bankruptcy. And I’m okay with it.
When you watch a magician at work, and you see a trick which blows your mind, you become obsessed with knowing how it works. If you find out the way, suddenly you lose interest. Peeking behind the curtain suddenly reveals the hokey lighting and the cracked stage make up. But you know what? What if you learn to love being behind the curtain? What if your knowledge of how the trick works enhances your experience, because you suddenly sit among an audience and realise they are enamored by the trick that appears as magic. And it’s not smug, it’s a genuine happiness and willingness to go along with it, a micro appreciation of the content turns into a macro appreciation of the form.
Star Wars remixed a jidaigeki film into space and the West. And it told a simple fable. It was not subversive or dark. It was an innocent, primal venture into a world of space magic. And it was, at the time, fun. In short, as a movie, it works. And you reap what you sow, and so they have reaped a generation of adults who all grew up with a single favourite story. And as we see here, that has a pretty powerful force.
The Force Awakens, will most likely enrapture a whole new generation to the saga of this space opera, and hopefully with it, to the cinema itself. I won’t be a part of it, but I can stand from the sidelines and appreciate how its done. Because I was once like that too, and for a saga that thrives on nostalgia, isn’t that the best victory?
P.S – The plot of the map searching by a man was done already in Star Wars’ own product, the excellent video game Knights of The Old Republic (KOTOR). Go play that instead or as well.
If you liked this, follow us on twitter here.