sat 02/07/2022

Star Wars: The Force Awakens | reviews, news & interviews

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams resurrects a sagging saga with sympathy and style

“It's true,” Harrison Ford’s Han Solo explains with wonder. “All of it.” The original Star Wars trilogy, its heroes and the Force have become fading folk tales for the new trilogy’s young tyros. 1977 is itself a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away and Star Wars: The Force Awakens has arrived to save a saga which has had nothing to replenish its deep reserves of generational goodwill since the decent bits of Return of the Jedi in 1983. Everyone who needs to be is still around and able to lift a light sabre. It’s possible for JJ Abrams to properly resume the tale abandoned then, and to repair the damage done by George Lucas’s misbegotten prequels.

Indeed Lucas, having sold his legacy to Disney, has been shut out of it, his own outlines for episodes seven to nine, vaguely promised since the Seventies, unceremoniously binned. Lawrence Kasdan, who with the screenwriter of The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, Leigh Brackett, gave The Empire Strikes Back dark drama and Forties Hollywood wisecracking romance, is the keeper of the flame chosen by Abrams to co-write this. The Empire Strikes Back is the film it most resembles, with its sense of good in awful danger and evil unexpectedly ascendant. But from the Tatooine-like desert planet on which we begin to the tortured interplay of the Force’s light and dark sides in new villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, pictured below), the narrative and tone of all three original films are deliberately tapped into.Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in Star Wars: The Force AwakensDisney and Abrams have kept their pot of gold under wraps admirably till now, and the pleasure of a major Hollywood film which hasn’t had its good bits gutted for trailers should be preserved. But it won’t hurt you to know the new young cast are excellent. Unknown Briton Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the Luke Skywalker figure as we first met him, a working-class rural orphan on a backwater planet, collecting scrap and dreaming of being a pilot.

Finn (another young Briton, John Boyega, pictured below with Ridley) fulfils Han Solo’s reluctant hero role in extremis, as a morally conflicted stormtrooper (there’s only one – the others have their Nazi roots reaffirmed as the Empire-replacing First Order unfurls its red and black banners, and are blown away with the usual untroubled elan). Oscar Isaac, so good as the Coens’ Llewyn Davis, is dashing resistance pilot Poe Dameron, taking on Luke and Han’s swashbuckling elements.Daisy Ridley and John BoyegaAnd then, there’s Han Solo. Harrison Ford’s box-office power ended a decade ago, but his return to a role whose corny lines he threatened to stuff down George Lucas’s throat in 1977 reminds you he is a great movie star. He has the confident, reluctantly sensitive masculinity and now weathered, craggy looks for the mixture of Bogart and Errol Flynn Han demands. As when Abrams gave Leonard Nimoy his last role in his headspinningly satisfying Star Trek reboot, this further adventure of Han, and a new scene in his star-crossed romance with Carrie Fisher’s weary Leia, make this film real for those who care. As to Luke Skywalker, he’s around.

Star Wars famously opened with the cinema-shaking Dolby rumble of an Imperial Star Destroyer crossing the screen. The effects which were a marvel then are a sometimes beautiful means to an emotional end now. The commercial juggernaut which at my screening filled 25 minutes with Duracell-powered light-sabres and the like has been ignored as much as possible, Abrams, Kasdan and their cast instead breathe new life into something they’ve tried not to think of as a franchise.In 1977, George Lucas created Star Wars, brilliantly, as a tribute to the simple Saturday morning adventure serials of his childhood (and The Searchers, and Kurosawa, and Tolkien...). It was as personal and fresh as the rest of the otherwise morally nuanced, adult New Hollywood it climaxed and killed. We’ve been living in the infantilised fallout ever since, where giving Iron Man some good lines is the best you can hope for from a blockbuster.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens won’t have any wider impact. It has been built to serve and sell to different audiences. Some with no memory of being swept away almost forty years ago will follow strong new heroes and villains. For those old enough now and young enough then to have childhoods consumed by this stuff, it’s a satisfying new turn in a near life-long tale.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens


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