We have Star Wars’d. After the disappointing experience of watching Attack of the Clones at the Showroom when it came out (CGI Yoda leaping in the air like Nureyev on speed threw us out of the movie, with Rachel dissolving in fits of giggles as the rest of the audience glared), I didn’t bother with Revenge of the Sith and I was wary of going into The Force Awakens with high levels of expectation.
Turns out I shouldn’t have worried. TFA is everything the prequels were not. It is a film by fans, for fans. And not just old fans like myself (Class of ’77) – it’s a film that effectively bridges the gap between my generation and younger geeks and nerds and genre fans as much as it bridges the gap between the fall of the Empire and this fresh struggle with the First Order. If you want, it’s a passing of the baton, fresh legs in the race. TFA isn’t hamstrung by its own future, as the prequels were; it can look in new directions, and do something exciting with Star Wars.
Of course it’s exciting to see the return of familiar faces and characters – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, the droids, hell even Nien Numb gets in there! – and they aren’t just there as fan-service nods either, they play pivotal roles in the plot. But I mentioned passing on the baton, and TFA introduces a whole slew of new characters who not only take up the baton but rip up the whole damn track as they charge into the next installment of this trilogy.
Let’s start with Rey (Daisy Ridley). She’s our first new POV. Like Luke, she’s grown up on a desert world; like Luke she can tinker with droids and knows their language. She’s more go-getting and less whiny than Luke, and doesn’t have his privileges (he always had food on the table at the end of the day, didn’t he? Rey doesn’t have that – she has to slave for it). I’m determined not to let spoilers in here, but she’s a real fighter, and it’s clear from the climactic fight that she’s on the side of light. There’s some weird bullshit on the net about Rey being “too perfect”, a Mary Sue, a sop to the dictates of PC – I don’t see that, and if folks saying that have their heads stuck that far up their arses I’m surprised they managed to see any of the film at all. Rey’s no more perfect than Luke was in A New Hope; she’s just as fallible in fact, if you look at her decisions in the film. “But she has skills!” – well of course she has skills – she has to fight for her own survival every damn day!
John Boyega’s Finn attracted just as much vitriol from the arse-end of the net for… not being white. In a whole galaxy filled with aliens, we can’t have a guy who isn’t white? Hmm. See my previous comment. Meanwhile Boyega does a bloody good job of portraying a man who has seen what the First Order is, seen what he is required to be, and has decided he can’t – and won’t – do it. The panic, the anxiety, it comes across as very real. Rey and Finn work well together as a team too, and I had no problem cheering them on.
Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is another perfectly-pitched character. He’s got his own set of stresses to go with a fractured personality, and a temper that reminds me of my troll-in-law Sebastian. The audience has very good reason to pile in against him. Rachel reckoned Adam Driver managed an understated performance; it was certainly far better than anything the prequels managed in writing a villain.
TFA does ape A New Hope in many respects – the epic opening shot, the desert planet, the McGuffin in a droid, attacking an impregnable intergalactic weapon – but I think it does this to emphasise that this is a new beginning as well as a sequel. The filmmakers have managed these homages to the ’70s trilogy so well that they don’t trip up the story, and there are enough new elements that TFA does stand on its own. I’m looking forward to what happens next.