I’ve been reading some headlines about the critics’ reception of the new Star Wars film. The Force Awakens premiered somewhere posh this week, and has its UK premiere somewhere else posh today. The great unwashed get their first opportunity to see it when it opens in cinemas on Thursday. Having read those headlines, I’m already regretting my decision not to go on the first night in a bid to avoid the horror that is Other People, Most Notably Children. As a consequence of that decision I am waiting until Monday, and already finding it difficult. I literally can’t wait. If I wasn’t on a cocktail of drugs to prevent it I might do a small wee at this point. Almost without exception, the UK’s press reviewers are lining up to declare it a resounding success. They are using words like ‘triumph’ to describe JJ Abrams’ Disneyed-up Episode VII, with some calling it the best of all of the Star Wars films.
I haven’t read the detail in these reviews because I don’t want any spoilers. You certainly won’t find any here. Not until I have seen it at any rate. By then you will probably all have seen it anyway, all three of you. I’m sure some of you make my level of fandom look like a mild passing interest. Regardless, and despite my excitement about seeing it, The Force Awakens cannot possibly be the best of all the Star Wars films. That would be going some. I’m a massive Star Wars fan even if my decision to wait until the start of next week to see the new film might suggest otherwise. Not even George Lucas’ laughable inability to write romantic dialogue can blunt my enthusiasm for what is essentially the greatest story ever told. Not even Darth Vader’s self-parodying cry of ‘no……….!!!!!’ upon hearing the truth economising tale (spoiler alert for those who have been in a coma since 2005) of how he killed his own wife could persuade me to give up on watching Star Wars films. Even if I am riddled with scepticism about where it could possibly go from the end of Return Of The Jedi. I will watch as many Star Wars films as they make in my lifetime and I’ll get preposterously excited before each and every one of them. Shit, I’ve even seen a few of those awful Clone Wars cartoons on Nickleodeon or whatever it is. But is The Force Awakens the greatest of all Star Wars films? I’d love to be proved wrong but, Nah. Doubt it.
One reason for my disturbing lack of faith (Star Wars fans will see what I did there) is that I don’t think that in 2015 it is possible to recreate the jaw-dropping majesty of Star Wars Episode IV’s opening shot in a cinema, or many of its other spectacular visual innovations. Or the feeling of what it would have been like to have been there to have seen it in 1977. There’s too much going on, too much is possible now, technologically and cinematically. An infeasibly large space ship cruising above your eyeline into shot, slowly moving away from you for what seems like an eternity was the height of cinematic ambition 38 years ago. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. These days it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. When a film tries to show me something visually spectacular now I’m likely to choose that moment to go and empty my bladder, safe in the knowledge that I won’t miss anything resembling a plot while I’m away. Nobody has combined visuals like that with that level of intrigue in film ever since, and my natural cynicism tells me that they never will, no matter how many Star Wars films they make. No matter how my bladder copes with the anticipation of each new release.
I suppose my apprehension at the concept of more Star Wars films is because I already consider the story to be complete, and I’m not sure what we are doing tampering with it. I don’t just mean the original trilogy when I refer to ‘the story’. The flaw-infested prequels were a necessary evil. We had to see Anakin’s regression from Jedi hero to hate-fuelled Sith in order to try to understand Vader better. It’s just that we could have benefited from a better script and some superior acting. A bit more ‘you were the chosen one’ and a bit less ‘what have I done….?’ If you like. And I just don’t know what else we need to know about the Star Wars universe post-Vader. He’s redeemed and dead, we’ve come full circle. Isn’t everything from here on in just a re-telling of the same message, parping on about the same themes but to a lesser effect? We won’t know until we see the film, but I’m worried that it is. Abrams’ most notable work so far is his long running disaster epic Lost, which began brilliantly. It was interesting and inventive with intriguing characters with cleverly woven back stories. Yet by the end of series 327 it all fell in a crumpled mess to the point where there is now nobody alive who fully understands the ending and what really happened on that island, or whether there even was an island to begin with. Had it not been for Evangeline Lily half the audience would probably have stopped watching after series 2.
To the naysayers Star Wars is just a rather childish fantasy about people who live on fictional planets blowing things up, but to some of us it’s an epic story with a masterful understanding of human nature. Of how we start off fine before life slowly throws enough shit our way to break us down. OK, so we don’t all go around building a space station with enough power to destroy whole planets, or chopping our own children’s hands off, but there’s a bit of Darth Vader in every one of us. That’s why he is the greatest movie villain of all time, because so many of us identify with his struggle, even if we don’t necessarily endorse his fashion sense. The trailers for The Force Awakens reveal that he is at least referred to in the new story, but without his actual presence, without David Prowse awkwardly staggering around in a heavy suit practising high level dark arts, without James Earl Jones’ childhood defining voice talents, it seems implausible that you could actually have the best of all the Star Wars films.
I’m just hoping against all hope that the Star Wars saga, that much beloved relic of my childhood years, doesn’t outstay its welcome. At least two more films amongst other projects are on the way over the next few years. But when you add Abrams’ previous to the Disneyfication of the whole thing you might, as a Star Wars fan, find cause for concern. And then what will you do?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll go and watch the next instalment with the same level of excitement all the same…..
Regrettably, the words to this piece will not scroll away from you at an interesting angle……….