Thursday, 21 January 2016



So it's here. Finally. After all the hype and hyperbole, after all the leaks and rumours, teasers, trailers, tweets, Facebook statuses, fan hysteria, clickbait, listicles, online outrage (over everything from the 12A certificates to the race and gender of the main characters) and general senseless bellowing on a daily, even hourly, basis, at long last the seventh film in arguably the most culturally significant and influential movie franchise in history rolls into what looks like every single cinema on the planet. It's equally a film we prayed would be as good as the original trilogy as one we prayed would be better than the sequels.

Well, phew. Certainly Star Wars: The Force Awakens is several parsecs better than the prequels, but then eighty per cent of the entire universe is better than the prequels, including unexplained skin rashes and finding your mum going through your internet history, though admittedly most of us would be hard pressed to decide whether Jar Jar Binks or, say, Richard Littlejohn was more deserving of a massive smack in the mouth. Whether Episode 7 is better than the Luke/Vader trilogy is a much trickier question, if only because we watch those older films through such a haze of nostalgia. I'm no longer the young teenager thrilling to A New Hope (as it wasn't called) in the 1970s; I'm now a grumpy 50+ git who turns into Victor Meldrew every time the printer toner runs out.

In the event, it's a testament to how good the new film is that you don't mind the numerous callbacks to the first three films: at the centre of everyone's quest is a bleeping droid carrying secret Rebel information. There's a cantina full of strange alien lifeforms and a house band. There's a Death Star - except it's now called Starkiller Base, is an actual planet and can zap five worlds out of the sky with a single solar-powered blast. There are space dogfights and Jedi mind tricks, Tie fighters and a spectral uber-supervillain from the Dark Side, masked supervillains and incompetent stormtroopers, "surprise" parent-child relationships and someone who's much more familiar with The Force than they should be.

It's also testament to how good the two leads are that it really doesn't bother you that the characters from Star Wars 4-6 take a while to appear (and one of them doesn't show up until the movie's nearly done). Most of the Old Cast heavy lifting is done by Han Solo and Chewbacca this time out, but you actually forget that Leia, Luke and C-3PO are even in it until they arrive, because disenchanted stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and deserted desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) are compelling enough company and they make the film their own. She's salvaging the wrecks of AT-AT walkers and Star Destroyers on sand planet Jakku in exchange for survival rations, he's on the run from the First Order after freeing top Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) from the fiendish clutches of masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)...

Which is all fine. And it's immeasurably better written than the Anakin Trilogy, basically because they've given George Lucas a large bag of banknotes and hired JJ Abrams, the rejuvenator of Star Trek, to make more Star Wars movies, only good. The end result is no Jar Jar and no midichlorians, better dialogue and a well-handled shock twist that actually works dramatically (no mean feat: I managed to stay spoiler-free for the five weeks until I was able to see it.) Against that, of course, is the fact that modern franchise movies have to set up and tease future instalments and The Force Awakens is no exception. Character traits of Rey in particular are clearly being manoeuvred into position for Episodes 8, 9 and 10 through 38, so this one isn't a standalone film (like the original Star Wars was) and so it doesn't have an entirely satisfying ending. And yes, you could say that about The Empire Strikes Back as well, and we all know how great that movie is.

A repeat viewing is almost certainly in order, partly to enjoy the John Williams score in context, partly to savour the nods to the earlier chapters, but mostly because it's thunderously good fun, and far better than we ever had any right to expect. They've got so much right that the occasional slip - you don't hire an actor of the calibre of Max Von Sydow and then give him nothing to do - really doesn't matter. It's probably going to be The Biggest Film Of All Time, and justifiably so (and not just because it's knocking Avatar off the perch). Great stuff.


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