As I write this, it's Christmas Eve, presents are under the tree, while children everywhere are awaiting the magic of Father Christmas and what he may bring. In many cases, and thanks to the new-found success of the franchise, it will be some of the wide array of new Star Wars toys, and I have to admit, I might have one or two toys myself, but that's all for another article. First it's time to look at JJ Abrams new addition to the Star Wars universe and the challenges faced in bringing this legendary saga back to the big screen. Apart from perhaps Titanic, never before has there been so much pressure on a Director to deliver and now as the movie passes $1 billion in takings, success is assured and his job is complete. Though despite the wide critical acclaim there are some movie goers who haven't quite understood the direction taken in terms of the parallels with the previous movies. So I thought it high time to look back on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and point out why it is the perfect Star Wars movie at the right time.
Last week I was lucky enough to attend the European Premiere for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the buzz on the red carpet being an almost unexplainable feeling of emotion, elation and relief. There surrounded a great feeling of positivity that Star Wars was back, with positive vibes all abound. Walking into the Empire Cinema brought back memories of the Revenge of the Sith premiere just over 10 years ago, back then we watched all six movies in one-day finishing with the premiere joined by George Lucas and the cast on stage. But despite the elation of the event it was clear the original movies were considerably better, and the prequels had not only lost their way in terms of continuity, but there was a wide array of cringe worthy moments that had damaged the very fabric of the Star Wars universe, and its with that in mind that JJ Abrams was tasked not only with rejuvenating the franchise but in restoring the magic while repairing the said fabric that made the original movies great.
From this point there will be a wide range of spoilers, so please only read on if you have seen the movie.
BB8 A perfect addition to the Star Wars Droid family
We see the yellow introduction text and it still feels funny actually having to read it, so much of the time we never do, having seen the original movies on more occasions than I would care to admit. I always like that first scene after the text and guessed JJ would add his own take as we see a star destroyer blotting out the view of a nearby planet making for pure darkness, a wonderful shot and another approach to that epic sense of scale from Episode IV. The first of many parallels but not just as a homage, instead in readdressing continuity in the story.
With the fighting taking place on Jakku we see the brilliant new droid addition in BB8 rolling off across the desert, an odd alien head pokes out of the ground and it made me smile, it made me think of Star Wars and reminded me of R2 and C3PO wandering off across Tatooine, the quirky aliens and droids that made this universe were all here, simple things that establish an old galaxy of wonders. The next parallel sees Finn (cracking performance by John Boyega) rescuing a prisoner (Poe) and removing his helmet, again much like Luke rescuing Leia it adds a human touch and sets him apart from your regular storm trooper. We've been here, we know how it goes but something new is added to the mix in terms of the two man tie fighter and the more daring escape plan.
Rey attempts to free BB8
Introducing Rey, a wonderful new character played excellently by Daisy Ridley, I admit I wasn't sold on the new characters in the trailers but in context they fit in beautifully. Her existence on Jakku is difficult and lonely, driven by the thought that her family may one day return. She's self-reliant, and strong, with a range of attributes such as her mechanical skills. While her connection to the force is quickly encountered as we discover the millennium falcon, the force guiding her actions towards her inevitable destiny. This strikes a parallel with Luke's piloting skills supported by the force in destroying the first Death Star, but rather than using the whole film we've moved quickly, having already understood the nature of the force in the previous movies.
This brings us to another important point, re-establishing the rules of the force and understanding how it works. The prequels took away the mythical nature and instead made it scientific, thankfully that's all been forgotten here, it's possible the force is in some way guiding everyone's actions hence Finn's swift evolution. But in terms of powers we see Rey developing her mind control in a comical scene with a guard (reportedly played by Daniel Craig), again getting her development moving along swiftly. This eventually culminating in her fight with Kylo Ren at the climax of the movie, he may have received more training but he is not fully in control, unlike when Luke met Vader, a fully trained Jedi master, Luke would need to be fully trained himself to defeat Vader and it is likely Ray will need to be equally trained if she is to defeat Kylo Ren in the future. Of course on this occasion her standard combat skill was highly capable and combined with the force giving her strength against a weakened and wounded Kylo Ren, the battle eventually stood in her favour.
The iconic lightsaber being handed down
So we've re-established the atmosphere via the introduction and BB8 traversing the desert, recaptured that feeling on Jakku of looking up in the stars in wonder and enjoyed the envisioning of the force, re-establishing the rules of the force including things we knew possible but hadn't seen before, such as Kylo Ren stopping the laser blast from Poe.
It was welcoming seeing the new cantina bar scene, but this lacked the menace of the original movie, a violent scene apparently cut but which would have added to the risk always present to our heroes. However again in re-establishing that said galaxy it was an important inclusion. While the new Maz Kanata character gives the advice of an alien being which has lived a long time and seen a lot of action, displaying the wisdom we've come to expect from Yoda, there are bound to be many lifeforms that have seen much throughout the galaxies turbulent history though heavy on CG.
Another new mysterious character is Supreme Leader Snoke, introduced in a similar way to the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back, we know little of his background but that will no doubt become clearer in the second movie as both Rey and Kylo Ren's powers are explored further.
The First Order, a powerful new faction in the galaxy
The introduction of the First Order essentially being the new Empire, with a Death Star type weapon. We see it swiftly demonstrated, Alderaan in Episode IV becomes Coruscant in the Force Awakens, a moment I personally found quite comical as JJ wipes away all remanence of George Lucas's prequel trilogy. Quite literally two birds with one stone, clearing up the past while laying out a new future, no need to cover old ground. But as ever a weakness needs to be found and on a machine of this size there will always be some form of weak spot. Another parallel here see's the Star Killer Base regenerating after its first shot, as it drains power from a near-by star the scene looks very reminiscent of the planet destroyer in Star Trek's 2009 outing with the base and Spock ship powered by red matter. Hence some explanation was cut, posibly to avoid crossover in the two universes.
It would have been nice to have seen Captain Phasma wielding the anti lightsaber weapon
Next it was time for the main event, the death of Han Solo. Again parallels with Qui Gon and Obi-Wan as we lose a character in the first of a new trilogy but that is the circle of life, we grow up, get old and die. The circle of everything displayed beautifully here by excellent performances from both Adam Driver and Harrison Ford. Ford understanding the final moment and executing it just as you would expect, no words but a gentle touch to the face, Han was never one to be verbally sincere but his actions always spoke louder when it came to his inner morals and his obvious love for his son. Though on a repeat viewing we take in more of the build-up to this event, his conversation with Leia who is deluded that good still lies within her son while it was written all over Han that he felt the light had drained from him, as Han stepped onto that bridge and built up the courage to call his son he knew his fate was sealed, but to save Leia and 'Ben' it required the ultimate sacrifice.
The many layers of Kylo Ren's anguish, perfectly demonstrated by Adam Driver
Finally, we have the X-Wing attack on the Star Killer base and this for me was one of the most important aspects of the movie, re-establishing the skills required to accurately pilot a craft. In Star Wars the Death Star trench run was conducted by experienced pilots, many were even questioning Luke's ability to even pilot a craft, especially given the speed and difficulty in hitting the target. But this was all lost in the prequels, Anakin accidentally flying into the enemy Trade Federation Battleship and then destroying it, making a mockery of the pilots risking life and limb outside. While we see similar moments in the sequel as Obi-Wan avoids seismic blasts in an asteroid field, something virtually impossible in the Empire Strikes back. It's not just piloting skills but the risk of death, the fear of the moment and in that way this brought back a desperate struggle for life. From seeing Finn work hard in the Falcon's gunner seat with the old targeting computers to Poe's bravery and skill when it mattered, it all felt right and if the galaxy needed more balance, this was a moment which brought it all together.
The Rebel Forces put forward their very best pilots in an all out assault
At this point the return to base was arguably the end of the movie, the Falcon could have flown off and that was that. But instead we see a teaser as Rey finds Luke and the two stare at each other in silence, no words necessary. If the movie was about establishing the Star Wars universe, then this scene didn't need to do that, it could be fresh and original in its approach, a perfect silence that said a thousand words and introduced the adventures yet to come. Some may worry that the next movie will be more Empire Strikes Back than original but with Director Rian Johnson at the helm I think we can look forward to something darker and all the more spectacular without the ties.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens set out to create new Star Wars fans while reigniting the fun and excitement for the old ones. With a narrow margin it needed to capture that feeling of the old movies with familiar moments while taking the story forward, this resulted in a difficult balancing act that JJ Abrams passed with flying colours. A proven success, this was just the movie the franchise needed and at a time when it balances both young and old in terms of appeal, now younger people can finally see why older people enjoyed the original trilogy so much and with a story including all of the elements that made the originals great, The Force Awakens surpassing all expectations. From story and character development to film techniques using sets and real effects, it was all there and despite seeing the movie twice I can't get enough of it.
The Force is indeed strong with this one and I look forward to this trilogies ultimate destiny as the story unfolds.
But it doesn't end there, in my next article I'll be looking at some of the toys and goodies available for both small kids and big kids, now excuse me while I head back on to Star Wars Battlefront and return to Jakku, getting it all prepared for Rey.
Fight Imperial forces on Star Wars Battlefront's 'Battle for Jakku'
Top Images and arrangement: Alan Boiston.
All movie images provided by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Bottom Image, Star Wars Battlefront provided by Electronic Arts.