Star Wars: The Force Awakens is smashing box office records around the world, but behind the hype and money-making lies the real triumph of the latest installment of the juggernaut franchise. A return to great storytelling.
The original feature Star Wars: A New Hope set the collective imagination of movie-goers alight on its release in 1976 with its innovative take on the sci-fi genre. Lucas cleverly employed the archetypes of myth to create a story that deeply resonated with audiences. Coupled with cutting edge special effects, an original visual style and a great cast of unknowns Lucas hit on a winning formula. The Star Wars saga became a phenomenon, enchanting fans over the course of the first trilogy.
When writing the second trilogy Lucas had the hefty weight of his own legacy and the high expectations of an eager fandom on his shoulders. And it showed. The three prequels were heavy on complicated plot lines, special effects and expansion of the Star Wars universe. But they were joyless affairs.
Rebooting the film series for a second time would have been an equally daunting prospect. But luckily for fans and general movie-goers alike Episode 7 has landed in the capable hands of J.J. Abrams. He takes on the helm as director and co-writer, along with Lawrence Kasdan (who penned Episodes 5 and 6) and Michael Arndt (known for Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3), to breathe new life into the saga.
Essentially, The Force Awakens is the ultimate exercise in fan fiction. The screenwriters have mined the winning elements of the original to create a film that is greater than the sum of its parts. Abrams also has the advantage of assembling the five major leads from the original trilogy to imbue the film with the nostalgia that audiences craved and missed from the prequel trilogy.
The new leads played by new-comers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver fit seamlessly into the world of the film, with BB-8 proving a well-cast addition to the droid family.
What the filmmakers have given us is a rollicking good tale. There’s action, in-jokes, high emotion, characters that audiences have been invested in for decades, suspense and a general good-humouredness to the spirit of the film. The junk-yard sci-fi feel is back, with spectacle pared back to make way for emotional investment in story and character. Abrams and his team have done the near-impossible and re-heated a winning formula.
Audiences are responding in appreciation by turning out in record numbers, critic reviews are glowing and the power of social media is helping to spread positive word of mouth. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a hit, a welcome return of old friends and the passing on of the baton onto a new generation. Forget the hype and prepare to have your sense of wonder rekindled. The Force is strong with this one!