Star Wars: The Force Awakens
For the first ten minutes or so there is nagging despair, even mourning. It feels like an awkward Star Wars themed high school reunion in a room littered with lifeless artefacts, with Disney and JJ Abrams strutting around bragging “lookit all this shit we bought!” Then around the time Harrison Ford turns up and surprises everyone because no one thought he’d actually bring Han Solo with him but he did, around that time it’s like someone finds an actual lightsaber, slices off somebody’s limb, and suddenly it’s all drunken laughs and how it used to be.
Oh there are fails, there are many fails, – the dogfights and hand to hand combat scenes are unremarkable, the plot is patched together as if hastily stuffing a suitcase for an unexpected journey – but there are also wins, and the wins, at least this time, are winning.
When what we now refer to as A New Hope first appeared it was shocking. Here was a space fantasy that looked like the ones in kids’ own vivd imaginations with real believable space ships and space monsters. But that excitement shouldn’t have lasted. It was a technological revolution you could only have once. But there is something going on in the Star Wars universe that has kept everyone watching through what has basically been four disappointing follow-ups in a row to The Empire Strikes Back.
As if by accident, or more likely by over-slavishly drawing upon Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces whilst thinking up a medium through which to sell science fiction toys*, George Lucas concocted a world rich with perennial archetypes, a sword, a ship, an alien world seething with mysteries that orbited one central mystery, as the protagonist asked “Where am I from, and who am I?
The narrative peaked with the startling reply “I am your father” and as script guru Robert McKee observed, this moment caused everyone to run all the way back to the start of the previous movie to re-understand the entire narrative up to that point. As the space novelties paled with overinvention this thread of royal succession drove the story all the way to the present rebirth. What Star Wars has kept doing is raking over the obscured past for clues to the present. Part of the aftermath of The Force Awakens has been to draw us into another retrospective evaluation of the entire series, its mysterious power in popular culture, and whether the latest attempt to draw the sword from the stone must fail. Either way, any brave attempt was sure to draw a crowd.
JJ Abrams is pulling his weight as a competent director of character scenes if not always action scenes. At this stage of the game it’s really been up to the writers’ room not to drop the ball. The Force Awakens makes a good case for blowing open the franchise to other artists, and for the continuing popularity of Star Wars universe and the continuing potential in its panoply of archetypes and symbols. Those around in the year 2070 may get to see it enter the public domain.
*Yes, apparently toys were not something that took over the franchise, it was George’s original goal. He said in 1977, about the original movie, presumably before it broke box office records, “In a way this film was designed around toys. I actually make toys. I’m not making much for directing this movie. If I make money, it will be from the toys.”