JJ Abrams had a big weight of responsibility resting on his shoulders when he accepted the position at the helm of the new Star Wars film. George Lucas had left very large boots to fill. Although, the enormity the boots came from the much-loved original trilogy, the boots were slightly muddied by the prequel trilogy. Fans feared another Jar Jar Binks shaped mishap. (Don’t worry, we leave the boot metaphor there!)
But the fears turned out to be unfounded. The Force Awakens has been the most successful Star Wars cinematic realease so far, not to mention the box office records it has smashed all around the world, having taken over $1.16 billion so far, making it one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time.
When the casting of the new film was announced, fans were delighted to see that as well as a pool of fresh new talent, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver, the old threesome of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher was also returning. This was a good sign: the new film was obviously going to hark back to the original trilogy that came before it.
Months later, the posters and trailers revealed that Han, Leia and also Chewy would have more than just cameo parts, although there was no sign of Luke: which lead to much theorising about the Jedi’s whereabouts and moral compass. Particularly when Abrams commented that Luke’s absence from both the trailer and the official poster was intentional. God forbid the valiant Luke had been turned to the Dark Side like his father?
No spoilers here, don’t worry: just reflection on why references to events in films that came before was the best thing Abrams could have done: not only continuing the story arc of the original characters that so many fell in love with, but seeping the film with references to its predecessors: the Millennium Falcon for one. and even Admiral Akbar made an appearance.
Even the story structure an features are recognisable as A New Hope 2.0: there’s a bigger and badder Death Star, BB8 is essentially the new R2D2, Rey; the poor scavenger with unknown parents who gets launched into a great adventure (a feisty female Luke), and the villain Kylo Ren admits himself that he is modelled on Darth Vader: mask and all.
The Force Awakens is essentially this generation’s A New Hope. I remember when I was young being so excited for my dad to take me to the cinema to see Episode I: The Phantom Menace, and my dad remembers going to see A New Hope when he was at university, and thinking it was so good that he dragged his parents to come see it with him for a second time. When I went to see Episode VII, I saw parents taking their children to see the film, wearing t-shirts and clutching branded popcorn buckets.
I read an interview with Abrams that said that he remembered the original Star Wars series as films that fathers would take their sons to see, but he wanted his Star Wars to be a film that mothers would take their daughters to see, which I love. He even went so far to call it a ‘feminist Star Wars‘ thanks to the punchy heroine Rey, who I also love. Daisy Ridley is so expressive in the role: every emotion is etched on her face throughout the film.
Abrams also said of his new heroine that it was intentional that the audience did not know her last name, and the same is true of Finn. It is a Star Wars trope that key characters are related. Even people who have never seen Star Wars know the ‘I am your father line’. As the Star Wars legacy continues, it will be interesting to see if any of the original trilogies’ blood lies will do too…
I loved the new duo of Rey and Finn, who teamed up to help BB8 and the Resistance, but the best duo of the film were Chewy and Han, who made quite the comedic double act. The film was littered with jokes, which felt like ‘in jokes’ for fans who could get the references to the original films, but of course the majority of the cinema was ‘in’ on the joke.
The film was a wonderful way to relaunch the Star Wars franchise and to look back to A New Hope and the films that followed it though rose tinted glasses, but not in a gratuitous way. Abrams certainly filled Lucas’s boots (sorry, one more metaphor!) and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for Episode VIII.