READ ON ONLY IF YOU HAVE ALREADY SEEN Star Wars Episode 7:
The family trip to Star Wars 7 took place last night at 8.00 pm and I can say that thankfully J J Abrams knows what he’s doing which, according to Star Wars aficiandos in the know, Grand Jedi George Lucas most definitely didn’t – re: those panned prequels and his rather simplistic powers of storytelling – even if his is the wayward genius that started it all.
Disney gave Abrams the job of directing the most humungous come-back film since……. well 2005 actually – funny seems like a lot longer, given the rabid fan anticipation and nerd-like Joy, you’d think the last Star Wars episode was a hundred years ago but no, a decade is enough to make this latest Star Wars incarnation rise to the heights of the Second Coming….actually Luke’s return might just be ever so slightly more important (well, in this Mark Hamill fan’s loving eyes anyway.)
And Abrams, having been a kind of trainee Jedi Knight to Spielberg’s Jedi Master, latches onto popular culture and the ‘normality’ of the abnormal in a very Spielbergian way, producing a Star Wars that the non-believers can believe in. A Star Wars that takes everything from the original but makes it so much better. A Star Wars that just might make those of us who never quite ‘got it’ – finally get it.
Referencing every major Sci-Fi/Fantasy winner of the past 50 years, Abrams gives us the sweeping vistas of Lord of the Rings, complete with a quest thrown in. He gives us wands and magic a la Harry Potter; the snow covered forest of Narnia; a journey to find a Jedi Wizard hiding in his own little island of Oz. And a gigantic new villain looking like a cross between Gollum (fittingly played by Andy Serkis), that almost good looking Orc from The Hobbit – and Lord Voldemort.
Abrams simply couldn’t lose, when he’s riding on the back of so many great story tellers.
And the lens flare is present and correct, just like in the Star Trek re-boot. Taken to a new level this time, during a lightsaber duel between Rey (the new, new hope) and the Darth Vader wannabe – Kylo Ren. Kylo’s very Arthurian, sword-like lightsaber appears to be on fire, as he flashes it around sending sparks flying, before ramming it into Rey’s face, filling our girl hero’s eyes with an evil red glow. Rey’s blue version, springing to her hand after being buried in the snow, in a very ‘Accio lightsaber’ moment, cuts an equally effective, ice-cold glow. These lightsabers appear to be the real deal, rather than a couple of old trilogy-style plastic toys.
And that’s true of Abrams’ whole Star Wars’ world. That clunky, heavy metal feel of the originals has been reproduced. No CGI star ships this time around (well probably quite a few in the dog fight scenes) – instead we get a full scale, hand built Millenium Falcon (I’m such a Star Wars ignoramus that I didn’t recognise the Falcon when it first appeared.) A couple of full scale X-Wings and those long pointy space ship vehicles. The actors get in and out of these spacecraft in the real world. The ships sit on real concrete. No green screen here. This works incredibly well – this is a futuristic world you can believe in and could almost believe is just around the space age corner.
Abrams and his fellow writers remain heart-warmingly faithful to the original, whilst taking the dual nature of good and evil to a Shakespearean tragedy level. This tale gives us a hero from the dark side, as well as the light, recognising that there are always grey shadows between the two absolutes.
John Boyega is a conscripted Stormtrooper (serial number FN218) with a heart, who discovers that he doesn’t much like massacring the local villagers, or seeing his Stormtrooper mates shot dead and so legs it, running into Poe Dameron, a fighter pilot who rapidly re-names him Finn; BB-8, a droid possibly cuter than R2-D2, and the lonely, machine parts scavenger Rey. And so we’ve found the next Han, Luke and Leia – maybe.
They’re all very, very good. John Boyega as Finn in particular, at only 23 years old. This kid from Peckham is engaging, funny and very clever, losing his native south-east London accent completely in favour of straight out American. Daisy Ridley as Rey is wonderful; strong, athletic, intelligent with an incongruously impeccable middle-class British accent. But not so incongruous really, when you consider how many Brits filled the cast list in the low budget, made in England original. Rey maintains a good natured happiness, even though she’s completely alone, living in a Lawrence of Arabia type desert. A Luke Skywalker-type aloneness; in the original emphasised by Luke staring out longingly into the Tatooine setting suns, but here highlighted by Rey’s lonely ride down a gigantic sand dune on her homemade sled, in complete isolation.
The plot is pure old-school Star Wars. There’s a massive spheroidal death star. Domhnall Gleeson doing a pretty nifty Peter Cushing impression, before turning into a strange cross between Churchill and Hitler at a Stormtrooper Nuremberg-type rally, just before the First Order (the new Evil mob floating about in the new Death Star) starts obliterating neighbouring planets by charging up their metal stronghold, via plugging the whole shebang into the nearest Sun – like you or I might plug in the phone charger.
There’s a new droid carrying vital information – but C-3P0 and R2-D2 make welcome, brief appearances.
But the real old-school hit is when Han Solo and Chewie make an appearance, about a third of the way in, after Rey and Finn commandeer the old Falcon. From there on in Harrison Ford is back with a vengeance, running the Star Wars show, towards which he’s always affected so much indifference. And his return is done so lovingly and so knowingly, that I almost forgive them for giving old Han Solo so much screen time and old Luke so little.
Ford tells Rey and Finn that everything they’ve ever heard about the Force and Skywalker etc is all true and in that moment it’s almost like the writers got Harrison Ford, after all these years, to at last publicly admit that yes, ok, he’s a fan too, and this Star Wars thing might just be something special.
Leia’s back too, as Carrie Fisher displays her much complained about (on her part) weight loss alongside a distinct inability to register any emotion on her strangely tightened face – out of the three ‘legacy’ actors reprising their iconic roles, Ms Fisher least resembles her youthful persona and registers about a 1 on the acting scale.
But the big spoiler, the ‘big spoiler alert’ that I kept seeing mentioned all over the internet, turned out to be the death of Han Solo. The 80’s version of Harrison Ford finally got his wish – 35 years later – and he gets a deathly confrontation to match the one between Luke and Darth Vader, only this time around the father is the goodie and the son the baddie – in a nice twist – and it shows us that, in spite of Kylo Ren’s (the excellently weird Adam Driver) curious propensity to turn on the waterworks, whilst working his dastardly deeds, that this new dark kid on the block (and progeny of Solo and Leia) is thoroughly EVIL, as he runs his own dad through with his flame like lightsaber , in a very Greek tragedy kind of way.
Mark Hamill gets about 30 seconds of screen time, right at the end, as Rey finally ends the quest to find the whereabouts of the kid who started it all – so it’s fitting that the last image on screen is of the newly slimmed down, long-haired and bearded Luke Skywalker, as Rey hands him back his old, trusty lightsaber.
Son No. 1 has re-aligned himself with The Force, after some years in the wilderness, and is overflowing with theories as to what will happen next and speculation as to who Rey might be (Luke’s daughter?) and so on and so forth.
For me, it’s enough just to catch up again with George Lucas’ imaginary universe, since practically forgetting that I was there when the Dark and the Light sides first entered the consciousness of an entire 1970’s generation.
J J Abrams seems to have a genius for re-inventing the wheel – hopefully his Star Wars vision will run and run.