There are very few screenings you can attend where the opening logo gets cheered; this is the power of the force and the power of Star Wars.
Nobody needs me to tell them to go see Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but if you’re even slightly on the fence, or waiting for the crowds to die down, I highly recommend seeing it at your earliest convenience.
I would like to say fans and non-fans alike will find something to love about the latest edition in the decades-spanning saga, but I literally can’t remember life before being a Star Wars nut. Since I was a young padawan rewinding my original trilogy VHS tapes (they were like DVDs for the ‘90s kids) so I could watch the lightsaber fights and Death Star destructions over and over, then re-enacting them with my action figures, something has always captivated me about Star Wars.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one, there seems to be an intangible essence to Star Wars, a force if you will. It surrounds us, penetrates us and binds us all together as fans.
In 1999 we all felt a similar excitement with the launch of the prequel trilogy. There was a great disturbance back then, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror that the larger-than-life franchise had been squandered on way too much screen time for a groundbreaking CGI racial stereotype.
A new hope has since emerged in the sequel trilogy, and while the excitement was tentative for the fans who remember being burned in the past, I can say with confidence that this is a true Star Wars sequel.
The odds of doing one of the most anticipated sequels ever in a palatable way were approximately 3,720 to one, but director J.J. Abrams was probably never told the odds.
Episode VII holds a mirror to the original trilogy, especially Episode IV: A New Hope. Star Wars tropes now combed over for years by fans since the 1977 release are not just referenced cheekily, they were the basis for everything. The film doesn’t contain a lot of fan service, it is a living, breathing work of fan service, by the fans, for the fans. Normally that would draw me out of a film, but if any franchise can pull it off, it’s Star Wars.
The original trilogy was treated like the ancient, holy texts that they are. Familiar artifacts and characters are dropped in carefully and precisely, while simultaneously not overshadowing the new characters and world Episode VII ushers in. The new faces are likeable, relatable and are essentially Star Wars fans just like the audience.
“I’ve always wanted to fly one of these,” one of the protagonists exclaims hopping in TIE fighter.
The new characters know the legends of Luke, Leia and Han Solo; they’ve heard stories about how the Millennium Falcon ran the Kessel run in less than 14 parsecs. “Twelve!” Solo is quick to correct.
The character work is essentially a representation of the variety of Star Wars fans that will be sure to be in the audience. Kids who know little of the original trilogy can identify with protagonists who know about the same amount. While old-timers like myself literally cheered when Han Solo and Chewbacca hit the screen for the first time. That was a first for me, a mid-movie cheer. It felt surreal.
The days of the original trilogy are long past, and the happy ending at the end of Return of the Jedi is a long lost distant memory.
The time elapsed since the Episode VI is essentially a one-to-one comparison with real life, and as many fans have pointed out since then, destroying the Death Star (twice) doesn’t automatically end a galaxy-wide war. There were many pieces left to pick up, and things didn’t get tied up in a neat little bow like the end of Episode VI suggests. It seems the “prophecy” that has persisted since it predicted Anakin would bring balance to the force, then Luke, is still in play.
One of my favourite things about The Force Awakens is that it doesn’t spoon feed you every answer to every question. It once again creates mystery and mystique showing the audience glimpses at what is clearly a large and sprawling universe with infinite storytelling directions to take.
What some, let’s call them dedicated, fans already know is that when Disney took over the rights to Star Wars they effectively kiboshed the “extended universe.” This was contained within novels, comics and every storytelling engine imaginable. It expanded the universe beyond the films and was kind of the reason Star Wars had such endurance in pop culture. Thankfully, it seems The Force Awakens didn’t stay completely oblivious to this extended universe and Episode VII showed a few peeks into the galaxy far, far away that seemed to assure there will be a lot of work filling in the blanks between the films and fleshing out minor characters.
From a marketing standpoint and what is Star Wars if not a marketing powerhouse? The plot is genius. It sets the audience up to nearly guarantee they return to see the next installment. I normally would have a problem with this ploy, but it’s Star Wars, I was going anyways, and now I’m way more invested than I would have thought.
The sometimes less-than-subtle metaphors and imagery that parallel the original trilogy, leaning heavily on the narrative and pacing of A New Hope, paint a picture of a battle of good against evil being passed on to the next generation — both in the plot and real life. That’s what The Force Awakens does best. It balances the real life perception of Star Wars with the in-universe characters and events, seemingly melding the two and playing on our expectations.
While some of the jokes are corny, it seems right for Star Wars jokes to be corny, and yet it still feels updated for a new generation. A friend of mine who actually bought my ticket for the first screening in Penticton (thanks again!) said it best: “it felt like Star Wars.” To the young stars and directors now being handed the precious franchise for the next two installments I say: “Great kid. Don’t get cocky.”
Dale Boyd is a Jedi-in-training and a reporter with the Western News.