Robert Pimm

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“The Force Awakens”: the good news and the bad

The good news: the best scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars in 1977. “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. High-concept, ironic, awesome. A field of stars, then planets: one, two, then a third, filling the horizon. A space ship zapping into view, pursued by a star destroyer so huge it took twelve seconds to appear from the top of the screen, driven by three immense engines thrumming with power – I saw it in 70mm Dolby surround sound and the cinema shook and… wonderful.

The bad news: the worst scene I’ve ever seen in a movie was the opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace, 16 years after the previous movie. You saw the instant the opening text crawled up the screen that the mojo was gone. Ewan McGregor’s first words: “I have a bad feeling about this“.  Too right! Things went downhill for the next three episodes.

So I’m hoping that “The Force Awakens”, will be more Star Wars than menace.  Based on the way the series has deteriorated over the years, my ever-analytical head says standing in a ice-cold shower of nitric acid while tiger ants gnaw my nasal passages will probably be more entertaining.  But my ever-optimistic heart says “maybe this time they’ll have a plot, some new ideas, and rediscover their sense of playfulness and irony”.

Desperate for any concrete info, I’ve trawled the trailers.


I see five reasons to be optimistic:

(i) Harrison Ford is in it. He’s usually pretty good;

(ii) there’s a new kind of beach-ball droid, reminiscent of the beach-ball alien in 1974’s magnificent sci-fi classic Dark Star (allegedly the first movie to refer to an extra-terrestrial being as an “Alien”);

(iii) the action plays tricks with scale – eg having a spaceship turn out to be infinitesimally tiny compared with the hulking wreck of another… hang on, isn’t that the same trick they used in the first 15 seconds of the original Star Wars? In fact, it’s the same spaceship, except now it’s wrecked;

(iv) for the first time ever, the films are in order.  Episode 7 is actually the 7th movie in the series.  That should make things clearer;

(v) er… let me watch the trailers again. Nope. That’s it.

The following points from the trailers make me despair:

(i) technology seems to have frozen. Back in 1977, I enjoyed the dogfights between the rebels’ X-wing fighters and the generically hopeless and confusingly-named TIE fighters (from Bangkok, I wondered?) flown by the bad guys off their laughably vulnerable Death Star. The trailers show identical dogfights continuing, 38 years later, but now in the Lake District;

(ii) everything else looks the same, too. The bad guy is another wheezing bloke in a black helmet. A key good guy is sitting in an X-wing fighter – again. People brandishing light-sabres wander around rainy heaths and snowy forests as if they’ve stumbled onto the set of Game of Thrones;

(iii) there are explosions and people looking shocked – always a substitute for a plot;

(iv) trailers usually show the best bits of the movie. Those are the best bits? Half the time in the trailer above, the screen is dark. What are they hiding?

(v) even dud films can have inspiring trailers. Yet the trailers for The Force Awakens are dreary.

If you want some copper-bottomed Star Wars-related entertainment in 2015, re-read the 1977 Mad Magazine lampoon of Star Wars, which like the original has stood the test of time well.

So how likely is it that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be worth watching?

Based on the trailers, the chances of Star Wars 7 being in the same league as Star Wars (1977); The Empire Strikes Back (1980); or Return of the Jedi (1983) are pitiful. In fact, you’re less likely to find the new movie brilliant than to win the lottery while being struck by lightning and savaged by a black swan. But please, please, please can I be wrong?

For: desperate optimism that it surely, surely must be better than Episodes 1-3;

Against: the trailers reveal zero evidence of this.

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