How to enthral a new generation and keep loyal fans? Just ask a Jedi


Here’s a novel way to review a film – I’m not going to tell you what happens. Partly because I’ve been told not to by Disney, the makers of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, who want cinemagoers to discover the plot for themselves. It’ll be more magical that way, and Walt loved his magic.

But also because, well, if you have any inkling whatsoever about the science fiction saga, you probably already know what happens. Go on, have a guess. There’s a fascistic bunch of evil-doers who want to destroy a peace-loving democracy, lots of chasing which I’m afraid is no longer 73-year-old Harrison Ford/Han Solo’s strength, a fabulous assortment of cute robots and masked, menacing aliens, a gifted orphan and emotionally tortured baddie, some very nasty people have invented a vast orb that obliterates planets and there’s rather serious familial problems that Freud would have had a field day with.

And all that means you’ll either love this, the most exhilarating Star Wars film yet – which I did – or find its derivative, repetitive and overly-familiar plot makes it feel like you’ve experienced it all before. Which I also did.

What’s different this time is that director JJ Abrams has resurrected what had become a moribund phenomenon, and awakened it with some astounding visual effects, a much-needed sense of humour and storytelling passion. He understands, perhaps better than Jedi Master himself George Lucas, just how to enthral a new, younger generation while keeping their parents happy.

However, for all his technical wizardry and ability to create a breath-taking spectacle – the first 40 minutes is an unstoppable whirlwind of stunning set-pieces – Abrams hasn’t been able to discard the cardboard cut-out characters, wooden dialogue and predictability that has marred much of the franchise.

Perhaps that’s an inevitable result of deciding not to reinvent the wheel. For Abrams has taken the best ideas from George Lucas’s original three films – sometimes the best scenes – and stolen them for himself. I’m not going to tell you what they are but, trust me, they’re all there, making the film simultaneously reassuring and yet oddly unsatisfying. For anyone over 40 it’s like re-embracing one’s childhood and rather guiltily enjoying it before wondering whether it was best left where it was.

For everyone else untarnished by age and scepticism, The Force Awakens is one of the most exciting pieces of escapism the cinema has yet seen, a simple adventure hewn from the well-preserved carcass of the Episodes IV, V and VI, studiously avoiding the politicised science fiction tosh of the other three. Though perhaps the best thing about this, the seventh in the Star Wars saga (shield your eyes if you must), is that the universe is saved by the heroic pairing of a woman and a black man – debutants Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, who are without doubt the standout acts of the film. Progress, it seems, has arrived even in a galaxy far, far away.

Whether that makes for original movie-making is beside the point. It makes for eye-watering profits, and that’s really what this is about – made blindingly obvious by the last scene that brings a tantalising glimpse of what is to come in the (at least two) sequels. Give ‘em what they want, and then give it to them over and over again as the 19th century showman PT Barnum so wisely deduced. No wonder that even the merchandising profits alone are expected to exceed $5billion.

Perhaps rather than my weary cynicism, you’ll want to listen to my teenage son whose words when we left the film transported me back to 1978 when I walked out of the exact same cinema in London’s Leicester Square. This time, I was his father. ‘Dad, that was the best film I’ve ever seen.’ And he’s already made plans to see it again next week. Twice.

The force will be strong with him – and Disney knows it.

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