When Disney announced it had bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise, many of us feared for the worst. We all vividly remembered the average revival of undistinguished mediocrity that was episodes I, II, and III. Well, most of us anyway, bar the lucky few who have managed to suppress the trainwreck that was the Phantom Menace (1999). A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas wishes he hadn’t milked it.
Rare footage of Binks, Kenobi and Skywalker watching the final cut.
But I digress. The time came, four days ago, when two generations of Star Wars fans flocked to cinemas for the midnight release of Episode VII. Entire childhoods were at stake, from the original films themselves to the action figures, Star Wars: Battlefront and Lego Star Wars, this was it. Could Disney succeed and we all just forget the Phantom Menace ever happened?
Well, yes and no.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens did the original trilogy justice. It brought back to life the characters of the old franchise (almost quite literally for Ford, now 72) whilst introducing new, exciting elements to the story line. John Boyega performs excellently as one of these elements, the ex-Storm trooper Finn. The decision to give a Stormtrooper an identity added a whole new dynamic to the saga, suggesting foot-soldiers have the capacity for inner struggle, not just the god-like Jedi and Sith. Boyega thrives in this role, making Finn charming believable. Combined with Daisy Riddley as Ray, the pair aptly continue the Star War’s tradition of not taking everything too seriously. Witty remarks between the duo, as well as with Han Solo and Chewbacca, are tasteful and well placed.
Respectively, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s return is a touching memento to the Star Wars of old, aided not least by C3PO and R2D2’s cameos. It is true that their scenes verge on vomit inducing nostalgia, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that the majority of audience members wanted that.
The film is produced well and some of the shots taken are exceptional. Ray living amongst the decaying structures of the old Empire’s grounded ships create an awesome atmosphere that encapsulates the film as a whole: the new, with respect for the old. This is a vital aspect that was missing from episodes I, II, and III.
However, there comes a point in The Force Awakens when J.J. Abrams begins to toe the line between nostalgia and copyright infringement. The plot of the movie becomes all-too-reminiscent, and the climax risks being tiresomely similar to Return of the Jedi (1983). Kylo Ren is Darth Vader mark 2; cue inner struggle, anger management issues and awkward family relations. The ending of the film is literally the ending of episode VI.
“No but look, this one’s bigger”
Not only were their too many similarities, but some differences were negative in affect. For example, the film is too singular in narrative. Part of what was captivating about the original Star Wars’ story lines was that their were a number of them. The multiplicity of bounty hunters, raiders, travelers and factions of various alien descent, incorporated what felt like an entire galaxy into the films. It wasn’t as simple as the dark side versus the light.
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does the Saga justice. The actors selected perform well, the cinematography is excellent and the nods to the originals are tasteful. Comparatively, the film feels more like Star Wars than episodes I, II and III combined. Yet one must be careful not to mistake un-originality for nostalgia, as the movie at times feels so much like the original Star Wars, that it’s practically the same film.