A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (otherwise known as Hollywood), a legend by the name of George Lucas started a journey that would last for generations, with both young and old waiting centuries to discover what’s next for the Jedi world. Until now.
First things first, an action film with a female lead has been produced and has smashed the box office. Pass the champagne. (Okay, maybe this is debatable but I personally think Rey is the protagonist here – she’s the new Jedi, right?).
The story picks up about 30 years where Episode VI left off. Despite rewinding the reel for Episode I, II, and III back at the start of the millennium, fans, or should I say followers, have waited over 30 years to find out what happens to their beloved Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo, and Princess Lei, who had just discovered she too was a Jedi.
Unfortunately we never do get to see Lei throwing some shapes under the fluorescent lights of her very own light saber. Sigh. But not to fear, it’s 2016 and JJ Abrams is shaking up gender roles, placing women on the same pedestal as men. And there’s not a burnt bra in sight.
Lucas can rest assured, the light saber has been passed down to a new Jedi, and Abrams is more than capable of igniting the old spark once again.
Star Wars conjures up thoughts of PowerPointesque special effects as a scene fades out and a new one slides in. In the best possible way, Abrams has reused these ‘Star Warsy’ effects without making it feel outdated. In an age where certain films are produced mainly for their aesthetics and the cinematic experience (The Revenant), it’s almost a miracle that Abrams has got away with using such old school effects in the biggest film of the year, if not decade.
I watched this installment in IMAX 3D on Christmas Eve, and Abrams’ loyalty to Star Wars tradition was a nostalgic addition to some sublime special effects. The old school effects didn’t devalue the film in anyway – whizzing through space in 3D more than made up for it anyway. Gone are the days where spaceships the size of children’s toys filmed from a distance have the capability to wow audiences.
With a £200m budget, Abrams takes a practical approach and uses it effectively, merging the classic composition from the previous films, with modern technology’s capabilities.
By now, I doubt many people in this galaxy are yet to see this installment, but I still don’t want to give too many spoilers as there may still be a few deprived individuals out there. However, it’s safe to say Abrams has created some nostalgic fun with his interpretation of Episode VII.
Some darker elements are explored too such as the way Abrams introduces a touch of humanity into the ominous and robotic stormtrooper army. It has been difficult to relate to the obscure army but Abrams brings them to life in the thought-provoking scene near the start of the film where the camera hones in on Finn (John Boyega) and very real human traits of emotion are emphasised. This scene reminds the viewers to be open minded and look past an army as a collective, but see them as individuals with their own humane concerns, who are often manipulated by a form of dictatorship, in this case, the state. Apart from Finn’s deviance, up until this point the stormtroopers have been depicted as reminiscent of a Nazi-like army, entirely willing to carry out the state’s wishes, even at their own demise and without any input of human emotion, justice or empathy.
The only real negative thing I have to say about the film is how utterly unbelievable and cliche ‘evil’ character, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is. To be honest, I’ve seen eviler hamsters. From the moment he takes off his mask, the audience’s fear is lost and it ironically becomes more like he’s playing dress up in his idol’s uniform, like many of the Darth Vader fans watching.
Despite this, it seems Abrams has got all of the other characters spot on and it’s great to see two rising British actors star in such a big box office hit. Okay, Boyega’s American accent is very, very dodgy and OTT, but I’ll forgive him as there’s sure to be big things on the horizon for these two.
The casting of the lead roles reflects the shift from a prominent, white, male cast, to a more diverse lineup of actors that the current generation of cinema-goers expect to see. There’s still some major issues in Hollywod (psst, #OscarsStillSoWhite) that need addressing, but it’s a promising move from an enterprise that was once a major player in the ‘one-type-of-actor’ camp.
This is most evident in Daisy Ridley’s character’s role, Rey. The young British actor has been handed the light saber (yep, I’ve used that metaphor again and I have no shame) and is ready to swipe away the gender stereotypes that haunt previous episodes and the industry in general. And possibly the biggest shock is that Abrams doesn’t create a film with a female lead, only to cop out in the big finale like oh so many other blockbuster hits. BIG MASSIVE SPOILER: the female lead is NOT saved by man. *fireworks*
This is a huge dramatic shift from the embarrassingly awkward sexist shit of the 1970/80s with Princess Lei’s pathetic attempts to: 1. Save herself, 2. Not flirt shamelessly with the bigheaded prat, Hans Solo, 3. Not live up to every gendered stereotype that exists. I mean, Lei is an ACTUAL Jedi. Hans Solo is just some annoying thief with a hairy sidekick. Yet who shines godlike under the beaming spotlight? Welcome to Hollywood.
With this in mind, it’s promising that Abrams seems to tick every box: race – check; gender – check; cinematic effects – check; tradition – check; loyalty to fanbase – check. He even reunites the famous trio (sort of) for old school enthusiasts. Even the younger characters, representative of the new generation of Star Wars fanatics, are in awe of the legendary team. The new installment truly satisfies every generation and it’s great to see a new wave of fans brimming with excitement.
Unfortunately (there always has to be something!), the hashtag that emerged during the film’s promotional campaign, #WheresRey, highlights that there’s still a long, long, oh so long, way to go for gender equality. The distinct lack of Rey merchandise, despite her being the main character (that’s my view and I’m sticking to it), is massively disappointing, especially when young girls finally have a hero they can relate to, yet once again are shut out and forced to embrace a male hero. Yawn.
However, it’s no exaggeration to say that Abrams has brought the nation together (okay, maybe it is a little bit). Having a feud with a loved one? Who care’s – book a trip to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it’s all forgotten.
Star Wars is for some, a religion, with the lengendary Luke Skywalker worshipped like a god; fans recite iconic lines like the script is their very own bible.
Unanswered questions have been eagerly anticipated across three generations; it’s safe to say Abrams had some huge boots to fill, but I’d even go as far to say that he’s so successfu, his toes are poking out of Lucas’ Doc Martens.
He has brought a breath of 2016 fresh air to the film industry. It’s encouraging to see such a dramatic shift in assigned stereotypes while still attracting such a big following. It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction.
With an incredible amount of pressure on his shoulders, Abrams was tasked with winning over the hearts of millions all over again while staying true to the genre, but, thankfully, the world can breath as he has completed Mission:Impossible with flying colours. Oh, that’s another film.