I have fond memories of the original three Star Wars films. When Star Wars came out in 1977 I was just six years old. I have no idea if I was taken to the cinema to watch it, though I doubt it. My strongest memory of the original three is Return Of The Jedi, as I was eleven years old when that was released in 1982. I can remember stopping at the small shop on Llantarnam Road, on my way to school, and spending my week’s dinner money on a book – The Making Of Return Of The Jedi – which I proudly showed to my friends that day. For its time, it simply was the best science fiction/fantasy film in terms of special effects, which was the main benchmark regarding the quality of a science fiction film in 1982. My friends and I enjoyed films such as Logan’s Run and Silent Running. Even Battlestar Galactica and Battle Beyond The Stars got a nod of approval. And of course, we all watched Buck Rogers In The 25th Century, mainly due to Erin Gray, who played Colonel Wilma Deering. She was the best Colonel ever, in the history of the universe. That’s what me and my friends thought each time our eyes were drawn to her credentials. Even robots weren’t immune…
But Star Wars was in a league of its own. It’s simple story line – farm boy goes on a mission to save a princess – was easily understood. And we could all relate to that, living in Wales. We were all, essentially, Welsh farmers, desperate to rescue a princess. Preferably one imprisoned in a huge metal ball in space guarded by white supremacists. My pocket money didn’t really stretch to being able to buy any of the Kenner toy figures of the late 70s and early 80s. If I had I’d be living in a mansion now, due to the resale potential of those toys. In fact, the only toys I had were two board games, both released in the late 70s. I think one was called Escape From The Death Star and the other one was an R2-D2 themed board game, the title of which alludes me. Seeing as none of my family were ever into board games, I just used to play them by myself many times, enjoying pretending to be a psychotic player two and a delusional player 3, switching between the personalities with a disturbing ease. I do remember the excitement when Star Wars premiered on UK television for the very first time, on ITV. It was an EVENT, in every sense of that word. The run up to the broadcast was excitedly talked about in the school playground, and on the night, I ‘borrowed’ my sister’s small 10″ black and white television and sat in bed, thrilled to be watching Star Wars for what I believe was my first time, Sunday October 24th 1982 (no, of course I don’t remember that date! I just looked it up!).
Like most movie geeks I was excited by the announcement of The Phantom Menace and enjoyed watching it and the following two ‘prequels’ in 2002 and 2005 but in the subsequent years, have thought less and less of them. In retrospect, they just didn’t create the same magic as the first three films did. However, The Force Awakens was a different story as the original three leads – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford – would be reprising their roles, albeit in smaller parts. THAT is what got me excited.
Now, I didn’t plan on seeing it on its UK nationwide release date. Firstly, it was close to Christmas, and money is usually tight for people anyway. A tenner on a cinema ticket is a luxury for someone who brings in £10 a month as a writer. However, the kind and completely unexpected generosity of a friend allowed me to treat myself to a night out last nigh, December the 18th, to see the film. More on her generosity – and the kindness of certain other friends – in another blog, where I can do them justice. Living in Avebury sort of limits the choice of cinema I go to. I could go to Swindon to see the movie in a huge modern cinema, I guess. But I just have an aversion to Swindon. Travelling to Bath would have been another option, but I’m not keen on travelling long distances in the dark, particularly on a gusty evening when my scooter gets blown from side to side. So I chose the Angel, in Devizes, a lovely olde worlde cinema. I reserved a seat in the morning for the 5pm showing in 3D, and left Avebury at 4:15pm as I fancied a look around the town before going in to see the film.
I’m not a huge fan of 3D. During the initial rush of 3D films, I watched Toy Story 3, A Christmas Carol and Avatar in 3D and the effect was alright, but I noticed that after about 45 minutes, my eyes became so used to it it just seemed like a 2D film again. However, as I had deliberately not watched a film in 3D for some years, I thought I would chance it. I settled down in my seat in the quaint, relatively small auditorium, and waited for the movie to begin. The curious thing is, despite the incredible and overwhelming hype, the cinema was only a quarter full. I was quite surprised by that, but I guess most people would have opted to go to their nearest ultra-modern multi-plex cinema, which is a shame, as the old cinemas are the best.
So, the original Star Wars scroll up the screen, set against a backdrop of twinkling stars, looked very good and again, the 3D effect for the first hour was immersive.
So, on to the plot. Some of the same themes and motifs from the very first film became apparent. It starts with a character (Poe Dameron played by Oscar Isaac) hiding top secret information in a droid (BB8) and then setting the droid free. The droid is eventually discovered by scavenger Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), who is clearly the equivalent of farm boy Luke in the original film. Rey then comes across a stormtrooper ( Finn played by John Boyega) that has become disillusioned by the whole storm and trooping thing and together they try to return the droid back to General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). On the way they pinch the Millenium Falcon only to be subsequently boarded by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Now, I hadn’t seen or heard any spoilers about the film. I am not a ‘fan’ in the sense that I frequent Star Wars websites or go to conventions or anything like that. So I knew nothing about the plot except for what I had seen in the official trailers. Even so, the ‘twists’ weren’t really twists to me as I had speculated on the fact that Rey was probably going to display elements of ‘the force’ – though I thought the way this was done was well executed and there was certainly a dramatic, on-the-edge-of-your-seat quality about the climatic fight between Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), Finn and Rey, particularly when Rey has that meditation moment and harnesses the force in her mind, so she can kick the ass of Kylo. That Han Solo dies was something that I suspect Harrison Ford pitched for. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the ‘trump card’ that J.J.Abrams, the director, pulled in getting Ford on board with the project, as Harrison wanted the character killed off as far back as 1979, during the making of The Empire Strikes Back.
Kylo Ren is probably the most interesting character, as he clearly struggles with a ‘calling’ to the light side – initially at least. The fact that he kills his own father, Han Solo, sort of gives the viewer that in the act of doing so, his journey to the dark side is complete (in the same way that Yoda’s plea to Luke to ‘confront his father’ would of been Luke’s final step to becoming a ‘good’ jedi, maybe?) but as there are two films to go in this current trilogy, then I am sure Kylo’s story arc is going to develop in a very interesting way. Daisy Ridley gave a fine performance too. My hunch is that she is Luke’s daughter. Luke Skywalker only appears in the last two minutes of the film, as Rey has tracked him down to a cliff that looks like it’s somewhere in Ireland, and hands him his father’s (Darth vader) lightsaber. He doesn’t say a word. In fact, he doesn’t even take it off her. She holds it out to him, he gives her a lingering stare, and the film ends. I think the beginning of the next film will be him saying “Wassap!!” and doing a moonwalk or something, before telling her he’s her dad and to go and clean her room.
Score – 3.5/5
Verdict – Worth watching. A bit of fun and harmless escapism. An extended Blu-Ray edition would hopefully flesh out the characters and fill in the plot-holes to provide a more rounded experience.