star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterStar Wars is my favourite movie – Episode IV: A New Hope, that is. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the best movie ever made (I give that title to The Shawshank Redemption or maybe One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) or even the best movie in the franchise (That honour goes to The Empire Strikes Back). The first episode of Star Wars is my favourite movie and, as I realised a few years ago, it always has been since I first saw it at seven years of age. After teen and university years, marriage and kids, the gap between trilogies, alongside various obsessions with the Montreal Canadiens, Jesus and Bruce Springsteen, A New Hope continues to resonate with me unlike any other story, collection of characters or treatment of an idea in print, music or film. In fact, with only mild plans to do so, I made several allusions to the film in my latest novel, The Chain, including character names and adapted lines.

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My family enabled my obsession with Star Wars Christmas presents

There are all sorts of reasons for this which have been covered by so many commentators over the past year: it’s a generational thing, I was swept into the Star Wars universe at a perfectly impressionable age, I collected the toys, comic books cards and puzzles, acted out scenes with mates to help us remember what had happened in the films (we didn’t have DVDs or downloads then), and the film told a simple but powerful story about good and evil, friendship and love, courage and fear, adventure and community, family and legacy and the nature of our connections with one another and our universe.

So, that means I’ve been an absolute sucker-in-waiting for the release of The Force Awakens. I was a sucker in 1999 when The Phantom Menace was released too and, for the record, I enjoyed the prequels trilogy for what it was despite what it wasn’t. Leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, my son and I re-watched both trilogies (originals first) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even as we scoffed our way through Attack of the Clones. In fact, we thought that Revenge of the Sith was such an improvement, we were certain it was written and directed by someone completely different (It wasn’t – George Lucas was responsible for both. Go figure – it was far superior. Attack of the Clones is the clear dud in the saga, though we still enjoyed Kenobi’s inspection of the clone army).

And it was with my son that I saw The Force Awakens last week– the first Star Wars film I’d seen in a theatre since my grandparents took me to Return of the Jedi in 1983. Talk about generational connections. And my verdict: I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that I suggest that, if you are looking for a proper review here, click away to another page. This is my enthusiastic response to both the good points and some weak moments. There are no (major) spoilers in this, so if you haven’t seen the film yet, read away in safety. Was it a life-changing experience like A New Hope provided in 1977? You be the judge – I’ve attached visual evidence below these thoughts about the film:

  1. First, Harrison Ford is Han Solo. By this I mean that he inhabits the character again. I really thought I would see Harrison Ford on the screen, the same man I’d seen in recent interviews, face of Indiana Jones and Jack Ryan, star of Witness, The Mosquito Coast, Blade Runner, Ender’s Game . . . But no! Han Solo is really in this movie! And he’s terrific – great lines, classic interactions with Chewbacca and Leia – the lot!
  2. Speaking of Chewbacca, he gets a lot of screen time and Peter Mayhew is back with a vengeance.
  3. It feels like Star Wars. It’s on steroids, but not the same jedi steroids that had Yoda leaping around in the prequels. This is the Star Wars world – in fact, it’s the Star Wars worlds as we see the desert, snow-covered and forest settings all in the same film. And it all works.
  4. The new characters are awesome and I can’t wait to see how their own character arcs (buzz-word alert) progress over the next films. Rey is terrific – she is not a version of Leia and she is not a version of Luke, no matter what you may be hearing. She is already a complex character with her own backstory which may or may not be connected with Anakin as she is a mechanical savant. Her chemistry with Finn is fantastic as is his with Poe Dameron. Kylo Renn is potentially the new Darth Vader, but has his own emo identity issues going on.
  5. The Millenium Falcon flies again and its presence is as strong as any character’s.
  6. R2D2 and C3PO are back and will be important, but BB8 steals the show – and we aren’t disappointed by this. This droid is simple and animated and a wonderful addition.
  7. The new perspectives of stormtroopers are terrific.
  8. The creators get away with stuff that we wouldn’t forgive in an unknown movie. No spoilers – just saying there is some corny stuff that works in Star Wars and works with a Star Wars fan base as eager and receptive as I am.
  9. There is some stuff that pushed the credulity of Star Wars fans, especially in characters’ use of the force. BUT the good news is that much of this can be explained in the subsequent films and hopefully will be incorporated in a satisfying way.
  10. And that brings me to the best thing of all about seeing The Force Awakens. This movie does what it needed to do and more. Firstly, it satisfies the connections needing to be made to the previous trilogy. Secondly, it introduces the new characters and their relationships and the puzzles around their future. Thirdly, it welcomes a new generation of fans into the universe and will surely appeal to them and leave them hungry for more and, while it took some retelling of A New Hope to do this, this is now done which means that, fourthly, and most importantly, the stage is set for the creators of Star Wars to bring us sequels that will be absolutely creative, dark and terrific in the same way that The Empire Strikes Back broke away from the Arthurian plot model and told its own story. I can’t wait to see where this all goes and will look forward to the DVD release when I can re-watch The Force Awakens several times over the next couple of years. There’s still room for my theory to eventuate:

R2D2 meme

So, was The Force Awakens a life-changing experience? You be the judge after looking at these before and after shots taken at the Downtown Cinema in Palmerston North:

Before    After

Recently I spoke briefly about The Force Awakens with Sheldon MacLeod on his news radio show in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Sheldon is an old family and high school friend and another thing I shared with him later was that it was a puzzle his family gave me for Christmas that helped me reconnect with the characters in our pre-DVD days.

Readers may also enjoy this podcast interview on The Docket with Gib Van Ert, executive legal officer of the Supreme Court of Canada and author of A Long Time Ago: Growing Up and Out of Star Wars. Van Ert does a great job encapsulating our generation’s love for Star Wars and the reasons why our anticipation of The Force Awakens is so fevered. (Warning: there are spoilers in this interview).

Likewise for director Kevin Smith who does a terrific job breaking down the film with his own detailed (and spoiler-ridden) responses.

And if you haven’t seen anything about this film, watch this trailer. “There are stories about what happened. It’s true . . . all of it.”

May the force be with you.

Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand. He is the author of three novels: Redeeming Brother Murrihy, Te Kauhanga and The Chain.

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