A successful Star Wars movie isn’t really about clever story or spectacle, it’s about something much harder: creating a feeling.
Rest assured, we’re not going to tell you anything that happens in The Force Awakens. Because you don’t really want to know, do you? Part of you probably doesn’t even want to watch it, because that flutter of anticipation, that hope that for a couple of hours you might capture the ghost of your childhood self and regain a way of seeing that you know is gone forever, is too precious. The wait is the sweetest part. A successful Star Wars movie isn’t really about clever story or spectacle, it’s about something much harder: creating a feeling. JJ Abrams, it seems, knows this.
From the very first shot, which plays with the jaw-dropping opening of A New Hope, Abrams wants you to think of the original trilogy. He repeatedly harks back to familiar sequences and faces, trying to pull you back in time. He wants the dust of that world under your fingernails, and he’s given it a texture that was absent from George Lucas’ prequels. So keen were they to use the latest technology that they created an overly shiny universe that looked like everyone had only just moved in. The Force Awakens feels lived in. Some of the animatronic aliens look elaborately fake, but that feels right, because they’re tangible. In fact, there’s one entirely CG character who seems out of place because he’s too slick. Perfection cools the warmth.
It’s too early to say if the new characters will have the lasting impact of Han, Leia or Luke – and they can’t realistically hope to – but Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver all make their mark, in very different ways. Boyega is particularly impressive, playing Finn, the deserter Stormtrooper, as frightened and funny. Yes, funny. Star Wars has found its sense of humour again. There are actual jokes, Good ones. The default tone is one of fun and adventure.
The story – which as we said, we’re not going to tell you anything of – plays equally to the new characters as the old. If you were concerned the oldies would only be here for glorified cameos you’re wrong. Old and new are knotted together in a story that makes the already complicated Star Wars mythology richer, rather than denser. A lot has happened in those missing 30 years.
There are times when it clunks or the old adage that “you can type this shit but you can’t say it” comes to mind, but that’s Star Wars. The originals were scrappy and sometimes wooden. Abrams has as thoroughly captured the original spirit as could be reasonably hoped. The old characters feel like weathered versions of themselves, the new ones live convincingly alongside them. And because we know this is the start of another trilogy – and then some, most likely – Abrams give you just what you want at the end: enough of a tease to make you start anticipating all over again.