the force awak­ens

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We’ve been here be­fore.

It was sup­posed to be the sem­i­nal mo­ment for a gen­er­a­tion who’d grown up feel­ing the Force, but in­stead we got trade dis­putes, sen­ate cham­bers, a whiny kid and Jar Jar Bleedin’ Binks. It was as if mil­lions of voices sud­denly cried out in ter­ror, and re­fused to be si­lenced be­cause the in­creas­ingly in­flu­en­tial in­ter­net gave them the chance to vo­calise their crit­i­cism of ev­ery lit­tle de­tail.

While the Star Wars pre­quels aren’t ac­tu­ally the dis­as­ters many peo­ple will tell you, they did get a hell of a lot wrong, tar­nish­ing the un­con­di­tional love many felt for the Star Wars se­ries. A cynic might ar­gue that The Force

Awak­ens, aka Episode VII, is des­tined for a sim­i­lar fate to The Phan­tom Menace. It has no god-given right to be bril­liant, of course, and thou­sands of Christ­masses may turn out to be a lit­tle less amaz­ing than we’d hoped for if the most an­tic­i­pated film in the his­tory of, well, for­ever turns out to be a bit of a damp squib.

But we don’t think there’s much dan­ger of that. Okay, we’ve just about come to terms with the fact Episode VII prob­a­bly won’t be the best movie ever – it’s un­likely to even be the best

Star Wars movie – but right now there are enough good rea­sons to get ex­cited about The

Force Awak­ens to fill a space cruiser.


It’s been three years since Dis­ney handed Ge­orge Lu­cas a cool $4 bil­lion for the keys to his Star Wars Em­pire. Even though we’re yet to see a movie, it’s look­ing like the bar­gain of the cen­tury. There were moans back in 2012 that the move would lead to the Dis­ney­fi­ca­tion of that gal­axy far, far away – Jar Jar with Mickey Mouse ears, per­haps, or Chew­bacca singing “Whis­tle While You Wook­iee” – but that hellish vi­sion doesn’t seem to have come to pass. In fact, as they’ve done with Mar­vel, Dis­ney seems con­tent to al­low Lu­cas­film to make Star Wars the way it wants to, with min­i­mal in­ter­fer­ence from above – the trail­ers haven’t even car­ried Dis­ney brand­ing. Dis­ney are savvy enough to know that they mess with the Star Wars fan­base at their peril, that they could throw away a whole lot of good will (and Con­tin­ued on page 52

po­ten­tial dol­lars) if they get it wrong. (Let’s not for­get that the Mar­vel movies since the Dis­ney buy­out have gen­er­ally been bet­ter and more ad­ven­tur­ous than the ones be­fore.)

If that fan-fo­cused ap­proach was ever in doubt, look at the choice of di­rec­tor for The Force Awak­ens. When Dis­ney bought Star Wars, JJ Abrams was at­tached to the Star Trek movies, and ini­tially turned down their ap­proach. “I quickly said that, be­ing a fan, I wouldn’t even want to be in­volved in the next ver­sion of those things,” he said at the time. “I’d rather be in the au­di­ence not know­ing what was com­ing, rather than be­ing in­volved in the minu­tiae of mak­ing them.” Lu­cas­film boss Kath­leen Kennedy re­fused to take no for an an­swer, how­ever, and even­tu­ally got her man. The lure of Ta­tooine, TIE Fight­ers and the Mil­len­nium Fal­con was just too much for a guy whose so­lu­tion for re­boot­ing Star Trek was to make it more like Star Wars.

Like the other di­rec­tors hired for the Star Wars movies com­ing be­tween now and 2020 (Episode VIII’s Rian John­son, Episode IX’s Colin Trevor­row, Rogue One’s Gareth Ed­wards, and the Han Solo movie’s Phil Lord and Christo­pher Miller), Abrams is a huge Star

Wars geek. He doesn’t have to guess what some­one might love about a Star Wars movie be­cause it’s part of his DNA, the orig­i­nal movie be­ing one of the for­ma­tive cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ences that shaped his de­sire to be­come a film­maker. Even Ge­orge Lu­cas, the man who cre­ated the fran­chise, didn’t have that hot­line to the fans when he came to make the pre­quels – that’s ar­guably one of the rea­sons the films he wanted to make were so far re­moved from what the Star Wars faith­ful de­sired. And if JJ ever wanted to get back to the spirit of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, he had the good sense to draft

The Em­pire Strikes Back and Re­turn Of The Jedi scripter Lawrence Kas­dan to co-write when Os­car-win­ner Michael Arndt de­parted.

Abrams – and Lu­cas­film as a whole – ap­pear to be us­ing the pre­quels as a guide of “what not to do” with a Star Wars movie. Much has been made of the de­ci­sion to film as much live ac­tion as pos­si­ble, with real sets, cos­tumes and props. When even BB-8, the physics-de­fy­ing ball droid, was re­vealed as a live-ac­tion prop – even though it would have ar­guably been eas­ier to cre­ate on a com­puter – it was clear we were step­ping into new ter­ri­tory. It’s real, it’s dirty and a wel­come re­turn to the used-uni­verse chic that rein­vented screen sci-fi back in 1977, and a much-needed de­par­ture from the

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com­put­erised, cartoon sheen that made sure the pre­quels have dated faster than movies two decades their se­nior. And on pa­per the story af­ter Re­turn Of The

Jedi has much more ap­peal than pre­quels whose Em­pire wins/Darth Vader rises con­clu­sion was never in doubt. We’re in vir­gin sto­ry­telling ter­ri­tory here, ev­ery plot twist tak­ing us some­where new and un­ex­pected. It makes com­plete dra­matic sense that the death of the Em­peror and the de­struc­tion of Death Star II didn’t ac­tu­ally lead to cen­tury af­ter cen­tury of ju­bi­lant Ewok danc­ing. The names of the fac­tions may have changed in the 30 years since the “Yub-Nub” (the First Or­der and the Re­sis­tance sub­bing for the Em­pire and the Re­bel­lion), but the bat­tle con­tin­ues. And Star

Wars is more ex­cit­ing when there’s con­flict at its cen­tre.

It’s a chance for or­di­nary peo­ple on for­got­ten plan­ets to come to the fore and be­come he­roes. The pre­quel movies were com­pletely lack­ing in char­ac­ters to re­late to, hu­mans and aliens bat­tling the odds, and en­gag­ing char­ac­ter arcs – the Jedi were more-or-less in­de­struc­tible, had lim­it­less resources and were ef­fec­tively su­per­heroes. We may not know much about Finn and Rey (not even their sur­names), but it’s clear that they’re cut more from the Han/Luke/Leia out­sider tem­plate than Obi-Wan or even Anakin.

This baby’s got a few sur­prises left in her, sweet­heart.

Could this be Maz Kanata’s cas­tle?

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