Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a fan’s reaction
At 00.01 hours on Thursday 17 December 2015 Louder Than War editor Sarah Lay was amongst those watching the familiar Star Wars credits fade up the screen for the first time on Episode VII. Did Disney ruin the franchise or indulge the fans love for the original trilogy?
SPOILER WARNING: We strongly suggest you don’t read on if you are avoiding spoilers – we’ve tried to stay away from including specific plot points but there’s enough here that we think you should see the film before reading!
Just over three years ago I reacted on Louder Than War to the news that George Lucas had sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney. The galaxy we had loved as kids and which had been marred by prequels in our youth was going to be further commercialised and get the corporate cartoon make-over.
The internet forums resounded with howls of ‘How could he do this to us? Was Jar Jar not suffering enough?’ and I certainly felt an initial pang of that too. But I also wrote that post with hope; a cautious optimism that with the right director this could be the cinematic redemption.
At 00:01 hours on Thursday 17 December I jigged nervously in my seat in Screen 1 of Derby Quad. Around me was a cinema full of the geeks of the local scene, most of us filled with that same hesitant anticipation.
We clapped and laughed a little nervously as the music began, the familiar credits began to fade up the screen.
And from here it was total immersion.
Everything I write from here will be done so powered purely by feels and coffee. I am not a film critic (or even someone who watches loads of films) and I don’t intend this to be the place I start. This is merely my reaction as a life-long fan of Star Wars, who was disappointed by not destroyed by the prequels because the original trilogy had a ton of flaws too (comments are open at the bottom if you want to move straight to a flaming).
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a visually stunning but sometimes over-whelming. It is a nostalgic piece that very much feels like the original trilogy and is more ‘handmade’ than the CGI spunkfest of I, II and III. It is a film that brings back humour and non-verbal comedy with just enough care that it carries the rest of the script. Episode VII is Star Wars that feels a little bit like fan fiction done by someone with enough self-awareness to try and rein themselves in and make valid cinema too.
It’s a slightly messy plot line although I totally believed this is what could have happened to the characters we knew after they finished partying with the Ewoks. Did I care? If I’m honest not massively for the plot at which all the neon arrows were pointing; I’m long done with the Skywalker story arc that is being presented so it was the stuff around it that grabbed my attention.
Most vitally for me is that here on the big screen, amongst sand dunes and blasters and a spaceship I adore, is a female character who is whole. In Rey there is a woman who is there with her own purpose, her own story and control over both. She is not there as a support, nor does she feel tokenistic. Her arc was a little clumsy but the very fact she exists and isn’t waiting to be validated by the male characters around her is enough for me, for now. Perfect, no but so long-awaited in this galaxy and on screen generally I’ll take her for now – this one character is the Force finally awakening fully for me. It’s been a long wait and I deeply hope we’ll get so much more of her, and characters like her, in future films.
There were some nice nods to the earlier films and while stylistically these felt balanced in the script they were occasionally too heavy-handed. The homage to other much-loved space stuff was more subtle and I’m sure more of it will surface on further viewings, emerging out of the melee of backdrops, hyperspeed and light saber combat.
Like all reaction pieces my views are bound to change, to develop as I move through the shock and awe of feelings from this film actually existing and not just being the low tide of ‘better than the prequals’ (a low bar if ever there was) but ‘the spirit of the originals’. I’m expecting to feel differently about some bits once I’ve seen it again.
On first viewing though it made me feel like a kid again, but gave me enough of the things I desire as an adult to make me want more. Sure, it’s a Disney ride but it’s a fun one.
It isn’t navel-gazing and banging on about midichlorian counts, it isn’t prolonged Trade Federation negotiations or prat-fall humour. Its a film by a fan but one who knows enough of his craft to pull himself back toward the lines of credibility than all out hyper-ventilating hysteria at being in charge of the galaxy and the Skywalker dynasty.
For me it is a film which is on the path to redemption. It is a film with huge heart and some important developments. It’s a bridge between what was and what could be still to come. It left me breathless at times with the sheer scale of it but also cornered me with a few very everyday but emotional moments.
As a cinema experience there is nothing like a midnight showing surrounded by fellow fans, that shared event which fully brings the communal feeling to the intimacy of film. Visually stunning and as a first step it feels as if this generation of Star Wars is now ready to let go of the comforting hand of the originals and become an independent and valid part of the canon in its own right.