Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - will the force be with the new film?

With a month until opening, Stephen Kelly ponders how the 21st century’s most hyped film could go right - or wrong

Stephen Kelly
Sunday 15 November 2015 18:16 GMT
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Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Lucasfilm 2015)

It’s now just over a month to go until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long-awaited seventh episode in George Lucas’s sci-fi saga. You may have heard about it. Directed by J J Abrams, it’s set to pick up 30 years after Return of the Jedi, reuniting classic stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in a new fight against the Dark Side. It is, without a doubt, the most anticipated film since, well, The Phantom Menace. And there lies the fear: will The Force Awakens actually be any good? Or will it, like the prequels, lead to anger, hate and suffering? Always in motion is the future. With the hype and speculation now at fever pitch, here we consider how it could all go so right – or wrong:

OUR REASONS FOR HOPE

George Lucas is not involved

George Lucas will always be the father of Star Wars. But fathers and their children grow apart; and at the point he wrote the words, ‘JAR-JAR BINKS: Ooh mooey mooey, I love you!’, Lucas seemed to lose touch with his creation completely. Hence the relief in 2012, when it was announced that not only had Disney bought Lucasfilm, but Episode VII would be passed on to a new generation of film-makers, with Lucas serving as “creative consultant”. The latter doesn’t seem to have happened, mind; Lucas has since admitted that he’s had no creative role in the film. Instead, J J Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, are in charge of the script.

Does this mean that, without Lucas, The Force Awakens is any less Star Wars? Maybe. But Kasdan was a huge part of what made the original trilogy great. For while Lucas is a visionary, he notoriously hates writing, bringing on those such as Kasdan to polish his drafts. And that’s not to mention the fact that since then, in extending the universe, Lucas’s prequels have been outshone by stories created by fans. Just watch Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated Clone Wars series, or pick up Marvel’s current range of Star Wars comics – both of which feel more like Star Wars than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith put together.

It’s got a great, diverse cast

The return of original actors Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford is ridiculously exciting, but Episode VII’s two new leads – Daisy Ridley as Rey, and John Boyega as Finn – are promising too, and the ensemble, which also includes Lupita Nyongo, Gwendoline Christie (left) and Oscar Isaac, is diverse in a way that Star Wars has never been. This was, after all, an original trilogy where only three women (Princess Leia, Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma) spoke, and Lando Calrissian was the only black man in the galaxy. In fact, out of six films, Star Wars has only ever had five major non-white roles. And it’s encouraging to note that future Star Wars films are set to continue the good work – spin-off Rogue One’s cast for example includes Felicity Jones, Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Forest Whitaker.

It’s in love with the original trilogy

It brings back Luke, Leia and Han; it features classic iconography like TIE Fighters and the Millennium Falcon; it’s set 30 years after Return of the Jedi. It was never going to be too hard for The Force Awakens to forge a connection to the original films. Yet Abrams, a huge Star Wars fan, really does seem to mean it – favouring practical effects over CGI and thinking, deeply, on just what made the originals so special. “The movie needs to be delightful,” he said recently. “It was not about introducing a certain number of toys for a corporation, not about trying to appease anyone. This has only ever been about what gets us excited.”

The story didn’t stop with Return of the Jedi

The Death Star is destroyed, the Emperor is dead, the Ewoks are dancing. So ended Return of the Jedi; the greatest victory of the rebel alliance, the final fall of the Empire. Except, of course, killing the leader of a powerful, tyrannical regime rarely ends anything. It just creates new problems.

Before Disney struck it from the canon, the Expanded Universe – books and comics that continued the story on in the 1990s – knew this. Books such as Timothy Zhan’s Heir to the Empire, for instance, foresaw a vast vacuum of power, with varying fleets and factions vying for control of the galaxy. Given that, from what we know about The Force Awakens, there is a new junta called The First Order inspired by the Empire, it’s likely that the new film is running with this idea too.

Another strand is the characters themselves. Where does Luke Skywalker go from here? Does he – like in the defunct Expanded Universe (EU) – set up a Jedi temple of his own? How about Han Solo and Princess Leia? In the EU, they have twins, one of which turns to the Dark Side. Losers on the internet have speculated that these could be the true identities of Adam Driver’s baddie Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey. A new generation of Skywalkers – it would make sense.

A still from the new Star Wars film, to be released from December 18
A still from the new Star Wars film, to be released from December 18 (Lucasfilm 2015)

OUR REASONS TO FEAR

There’s no way it can meet our expectations

More than any other franchise, Star Wars is – and always will be – bound to childhood; movies that, culturally, have become more feelings than film, an intimate link to a wonder you can’t feel any more. That’s why a generation of adults pass down Star Wars to their children, who then pass it down to their children; why, according to research released last month, the average buyer of an advanced ticket for The Force Awakens is 34 years old. How could it ever live up to a legacy like that? Not since losing your virginity have expectations been so high – nor has there been such a risk of sitting in a dark room, crying.

It might be too in love with the original trilogy

Then again, being indebted to the past is one thing; being enslaved by it is quite another. It’s a problem most reboots of beloved franchises have: the tricky balance between embracing the new and celebrating the old. Get too bogged down in nostalgia and The Force Awakens will be a tribute act; ignore what’s gone before and it’ll alienate a core of its audience.

Is there only so far that the story can go?

Before being put out of its misery, the Expanded Universe had exhausted every conceivable angle of a post-Return of the Jedi Star Wars. It brought back the Emperor, it turned Luke to the Dark Side and – again and again – the Empire would fall, each time returning with a bigger and better super-weapon. Was destroying an entire planet not good enough for you? Wait until you get a load of the Sun Crusher, a ship that can destroy entire solar systems. Definitive proof, if ever needed, that the Star Wars universe is one of immensely small penises.

It demonstrated the dilemma involved in continuing the Star Wars story: there is only so long that the classic threats (the Empire, a new Darth Vader-esque villain) can be sustained. However, to move on to anything else is to abandon what makes it Star Wars in the first place. As such, the EU grew repetitive, desperate and stale. All dangers that future films also face. One warning sign, hidden away on the official Star Wars website, is this description of “Starkiller Base”, which features in The Force Awakens: ‘An ice planet converted into a stronghold of the First Order and armed with a fiercely destructive new weapon capable of destroying entire star systems.’

We could be heading for overkill

There’s an article on American culture website Uproxx called, “We Will Never Find Out How Star Wars Ends”. It makes the point that Disney did not buy Lucasfilm for $4bn only to release a handful of films. It will, instead, operate like Marvel, who have internally planned their releases up until 2028. Disney will never stop making Star Wars – even after you’re dead.

But were Star Wars films, that most precious cultural commodity, ever designed to be mined so intensely? Over the past 38 years there have been six Star Wars films. In the next three years that number will have increased by 50 per cent. As we’ve already said, there’s something special about Star Wars. But if there is now to be a film every year until the end of time, will that last? There’s something quite sad about Star Wars becoming just like any other franchise. Especially when, statistically, some of those future films are bound to be shit.

‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ is on general release from 18 Dec

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