In 1977, as an excited 7-year old, I queued up outside the Gaumont Cinema on Colmore Circus in Birmingham with my father and a cousin. We were waiting to see Star Wars, a film which had taken both audiences and critics by storm. Little did I realise that it would have the impact that it did on me as a young boy, mesmerised by a story of good and evil, set in a distant past with incredible technology, and with its sense of an expansive universe full of discovery. Fantasy, science fiction and sheer adventure film genres were never to be out of theatres again.
For the Hollywood film industry, Star Wars was a global success. From 1977 to 1983 two sequels came, respectively episodes five and six of the saga Science-fiction. Episodes one-three were released by Lucasfilm from 1999-2005.
Fast forward 38 years later from the original, I find myself squeezed into a relatively small Bow-Tie Cinema in Chelsea, on the morning of my last day of nearly four months in New York City. My eyes glued firmly on the screen to watch yet another Star Wars installment, episode seven of the tale, set thirty years after Return of the Jedi. With all the marketing build up and the immense anticipation after a less successful response by fans to Lucus’ recent foray into the Star Wars university, episode seven was the one everyone was waiting for.
After George Lucas sold off the rights to the Star Wars to Disney for four billion USD a few years ago, the latest instalment is in the hands of JJ Abrams, the architect of the recent Star Trek reboot, considered an outright success, popular among Trekkies and critics alike. Yet, JJ Abrams could not recreate that allure with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Hyped to the nth degree, Starwarians the world over could, at least, hope for a repeat of Abram’s efforts with Star Trek, but initial responses have been mixed. A significant many have erred on the side of major disappointment and almost wholesale disdain. I watched the film unfold before me with lightning speed, hardly able to understand the significance of characters or their roles.
The new stars actors on the screen seem unable to contain their joy at being in a Star Wars film, which is not to be dismissed, but Abrahms does not allow them to shine. The old guard of the movies made three decades ago found their way into the script, arguably because Disney felt them important to help to connect two generations of viewers, but their roles and lines lacked persuasion.
A great deal of what has emerged reflects the trends in Hollywood cinema in recent periods. Sequels and prequels, reboots and remakes, this is the order of the day. The Star Wars concept has gone the way of Marvel, with plans to generate films with heroes that save the planet (or the Galaxy) every two years for the conceivable future. These films make a great deal of profit given existing sunk costs. The toys, games and other paraphernalia provide an endless cash stream. The franchises are a license to print money.
There is a palpable feeling that this is a Star Wars film, made in the character and design of the original three releases, and this was good to see, but there are too many plot holes and goofy lines that provide quick fixes and light-touch humour for the post-Scary Movie generation. I wanted to be taken on an adventure of light and hope, not to be reminded that Hollywood wants me to suck it all up. The Star Wars concept was made in 1977 – and it can never be unmade for so many. But the Hollywood hype machine will get me back to theatres no matter what.
Calculated to click with a multi-generational audience, the film satisfies no one in reality. In the final analysis, episode seven may well be a case of May the Forced Be With You.