PUBLISHED 12 AUG 2016
IT begins as the first note of John Williams’ famous score, synonymous with excitement and childhood delight, echoes through the theatre. Later, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) sums up what we were all thinking: “Chewie… We’re home”. STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS has been hailed as one the greatest films of the franchise by both fans and critics alike, praised for taking the series back to its roots and erasing the memory of the prequels that threatened to tarnish the STAR WARS legacy. It may have been 30 years since we last saw Han, Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke (Mark Hamill) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) but, with the amount of nostalgia injected into this particular galactic adventure, it seems like minutes.
Constantine Sedikides, Professor of Psychology at Southampton University, has described nostalgia as a “perfect internal politician, connecting the past with the present, pointing optimistically to the future”. This can be aptly applied to the very script of THE FORCE AWAKENS. The structure of the plot is nearly identical to that of STAR WARS EPISODE V: A NEW HOPE (George Lucas 1977). The film starts with a droid fleeing the empire only to be rescued by our abandoned hero on a distant desert planet. Both Luke and Rey (Daisy Ridley) must learn the ways of the force and must both witness the sacrifice of their new-found teacher. However THE FORCE AWAKENS is also the first in a trilogy and subsequently has the daunting task of having to set up the future of the new STAR WARS films. The film more than rises to this challenge.
It is easy to see why JJ Abrams was chosen for this project. Not only does he have a track record for rebooting sequels to critical acclaim but he also understands the effect and influence of nostalgia. His film SUPER 8 (2011) is an ode to the 1980s and Spielbergian filmmaking as a whole. He clearly romanticises the past which is a key ingredient in rebooting a franchise. While THE FORCE AWAKENS transports us back to the 1970s, the same representations are not present. The film improves on the earlier films’ depictions of race and women, which the franchise has been notoriously disappointing at in the past. Long gone are the days of Carrie Fisher’s ill thought-out, gold slave bikini and Jar Jar’s (Ahmed Best) thinly veiled racist buffoonery. Rey, refreshingly, is not sexualised. Her clothing is function over form and she is not simply a plot device. She does not need a man to show her how to be a great pilot or to use the force. The film manages to achieve the highs of the 1970s trilogy but without the same lows.
The film is half sequel and half reboot of A NEW HOPE. It is A NEW HOPE for the new generation and continuation of a beloved story for the fans. There is an unquantifiable joy in being transported back to a galaxy far, far away.