Today is a huge day for anyone that’s, A) a Star Wars fan and, B) about the same age as me (anywhere between 40-50 years old).
After a false start with the prequels between 1999 and 2005, Star Wars returns with the global release of The Force Awakens.
Fuck yeah!!! (sorry mum)
So why’s today such a big day? After all, it’s just the seventh movie in a line of great to good to bad movies, right, depending on who you speak to?
Well, if you’re asking that, you probably didn’t see Star Wars as an eight year old kid (or thereabouts) in the theatre when it originally came out in 1977.
And that can make a difference.
Unabashed Fun in a Cinematic World of Grey
When Star Wars came out in the summer of ’77, the movies preceding it had a very different tone.
Classics like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Deer Hunter and The Godfather were all dark, sombre affairs.
They had a tone that reflected the time – the Vietnam War and the Nixon scandal being just two that threw America a curve ball.
So it was understandable that movies reflected the nation’s mood. Given that so much of America’s cinematic output drove global audiences, the world of movies was a serious place.
And then Star Wars dropped, and everything changed.
Made by director George Lucas as an homage to both classic Westerns and Japanese historical movies, Star Wars was loud, action-packed, optimistic and – most of all – fun!
Instead of the multiple layers of who were the good guys and who were the bad guys in the likes of The Godfather and Taxi Driver, Star Wars made a clear distinction.
Bad guys wore dark colours (black and grey) except for the Stormtroopers, who wore white armour.
Good guys were cavalier, ready to take on the world, and not afraid of what lay ahead.
Okay, maybe Han Solo kind of didn’t meet the exact good guy criteria – he shot first! – but you knew his heart was in the right place, he just needed to realize that.
Star Wars was also unlike anything we’d ever seen before.
Prior to Star Wars, the two big sci-fi movies were 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The former was dramatic, with long sweeping space views and slow, lumbering space ships; the latter was a spectacle of what could be if humans and aliens met.
Star Wars was neither.
Instead, it was a glorious, good guy versus bad guy space battle with robots and lightsabers and blasters and, man, did these space ships move!
The TIE fighters versus the X-Wings. The Millennium Falcon versus Star Destroyers. Rebels versus the Empire.
The special effects that George Lucas and his team of whizkids created from scratch made a movie like no other – because Star Wars moved like no other space movie.
As an eight year old kid, you knew you were in the presence of something amazing the moment you get your first glimpse of a Star Destroyer.
Sitting in the movie theatre, and watching in awe as the biggest space ship you’ve ever seen rumbled over your head for what seemed like forever. How big is this thing??
From that moment, you were hooked, and cinema was never the same for you again.
A Trilogy of Broken Hopes
Star Wars was followed by The Empire Strikes Back (the best of all six so far), and the original trilogy closed with Return of the Jedi.
Almost fifteen years went by, when there were rumblings of a new trilogy (based on the reception of the digitally-remastered versions of the originals, released cinematically in 1997).
And so, fans got their hopes up. Finally, we’d see how Darth Vader came to be, we’d see the Clone Wars alluded to in the original trilogy, and we’d see the rise of the Empire/Emperor.
On May 19, 1999, The Phantom Menace was released – and it was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.
This wasn’t the Star Wars we were looking for.
For a start, it was too clean, too pristine. The beauty of the original movie was that it looked like a lived-in universe: beat up ships, aliens that spoke alien languages, and technology that wasn’t guaranteed to work.
The new movie was the opposite, and actually looked more futuristic than the movies it was set 20-30 years before.
Then there were the cardboard characters that no-one cared about, the plot that was all over the place, and the ridiculous use of CGI for special effects and sets.
Cue major disappointment and the realization that maybe Star Wars no longer held its magic.
Except it does – and the new movie looks like it’s about to validate that belief, and then some.
There Has Been an Awakening
In 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm for $4 billion. As a result of that deal, Disney announced it would be bringing Star Wars back to the cinema, to close out the story arc that began way back in 1977.
While fans like myself were wary, we were also excited. Finally we’d see what happens to Luke, Leia and Han after Return of the Jedi closed.
When it was announced JJ Abrams would be directing, hope grew.
Responsible for some of the best TV shows in recent history (Lost, Alias) as well as new spins on old genres (Cloverfield, a hand-cam take on monster movies), this was someone that had pedigree.
The fact he was an unabashed Star Wars fan (he was born in 1966) didn’t hurt. Nor did his successful reboot of the Star Trek franchise.
Then the first teaser trailer hit, and it didn’t do much to quench original fears, to be honest.
Some snippets of familiar imagery, but nothing more, really (and I’m still torn over that new cross-shaped lightsaber).
And then the first full-length trailer hit, and it was magical.
There has been an awakening – have you felt it?
That music! The Millennium Falcon! TIE fighters! Han Solo and Chewbacca, dammit!
Then the new trailers hit, and we finally see all of what we hoped Abrams would bring, and more. Simply put, this is Star Wars.
It looks like Star Wars. It sounds like Star Wars. It feels like Star Wars. Most of all, it makes this 47-year old guy feel like an eight year old kid again.
It may disappoint, it may be the magic has gone.
But until I find out this evening, when I go see an advance screening, I’ll be pinning my hopes on that it’s going to be the Star Wars I remember.
May the Force be with it.