I was seventeen when I first saw Star Wars. The remastered version was being released in the cinema, and my friend persuaded me to go, despite the fact that I considered Star Wars to be for geeks. (This was deeply ironic since I watched Star Trek religiously. It’s amazing how much cognitive dissonance one head can hold.) I can remember the blue writing coming up, then the titles, and I thought that this was cheesy and seventies and how right I had been to resist coming. Then the camera rotated, and a space ship came into view from above, and I thought WHOA. The sense of scale and movement was amazing. Later it was the world, grubby and worn in and filled with aliens who truly looked alien, rather than like humans with plastic stuck on their foreheads. Alec Guinness, giving dignity and meaning to lines that would have left me rolling my eyes if I had read them. Harrison Ford, showing all the star power of a supernova despite the mangling of the scene with Greedo. And Williams’ score, sparkling and hopeful and All-American.
That night my friend and I watched the Empire Strikes back and Return of the Jedi on video, her dog licking our toes as we huddled under the duvet. By midnight she was falling asleep, but I felt wide awake, jacked up on adventure and amazement. When it finished, I wanted to start all over again. I was in love.
So when the prequels were released, I felt like the luckiest person alive. Not only had I been able to discover this wonderful series, but I was going to get more of it straight away instead of having to wait fifteen years like everyone else. I bought my tickets for the opening day. In the cinema I settled into my seat and waited to be delighted.
I’m sure it was the same for many of you. A gradual feeling dawned that something wasn’t right. There were lots of bits that had the right window dressing, but somehow it just wasn’t very exciting. For about half the film I kept telling myself that it was all right, they were setting things up, it would all turn out to be really good, but there came a point where I couldn’t kid myself any more. By the time I walked out of the cinema I felt completely betrayed. I can’t remember a film that disappointed me more.
Of course, I went to watch the next two anyway. The second I saw in Oxford, in a packed cinema which howled with laughter at the terrible attempts at romantic dialogue. The third I remember nothing about, except coming out and thinking that it wasn’t quite as awful as the last two, but that wasn’t saying much.
And now we have The Force Awakens. I wasn’t hopeful any more; I just wanted to see a movie that wasn’t rubbish. I could try and write a review, but I don’t think I’m going to. Many other people have devoted thousands of words to how similar the plot is to the original. (Another Death Star? Really? It did make me sigh a little.) I could discuss John Boyega’s comic timing, how much Harrison Ford brings to a few words, and whether it’s the script or Daisy Ridley’s acting that makes her introduction seem a little wooden to me.
But in the end, none of that matters, because the movie left me feeling like this:
I don’t care if it’s derivative. I don’t care what it does wrong. What I care about is what it does right. The moment in the forest where Rey picks up the lightsaber and turns it on feels like something I’ve been waiting to see my whole life. Every single character, even the robot BB8, had more humanity than was in all the prequels put together.
So congratulations, JJ. You didn’t screw it up. As for the future, I’ve learned my lesson about getting overexcited, and I think that may be necessary. The next one is being made by the guy who did Looper, which I thought was an incoherent mess, and has already been delayed because of script issues. I’m satisfied with what I got: a great movie which went back to the basics and made me want to stand up and cheer. The Force will be with this one. Always.
Now, Disney, just get with the moneygrubbing and release a version of the originals where Han shoots first. There’s a lot of us out there just waiting to be exploited.