Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Reviewed by Nigel Watson, Photos by Dom Moore
Terrestrial, date, time, location: 20 August 2016, 8pm, Plympton. I’ve got tickets for the outdoor screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Mount Edgcumbe, but it’s continuing to rain outside. Every time I open the door even our cat refuses to leave the comfort of the living room sofa. She looks at me with an ‘are you kidding look’ in her eyes. Then I remembered that the website says it will only be cancelled if there are extreme weather conditions, and by Plymouth standards the rain (and wind) was rather piffling. I could tell that despite the cat and the weather, The Force was calling me.
It was fun going on the Cremyll ferry, travelling with a number of passengers over the dark waters to what could be an even damper evening of entertainment. Walking through the gloomy countryside it was good to finally arrive at our destination to find so many people already camped out in front of the screen. There were several Storm Troopers prowling around to keep the audience in order, though it was more disconcerting to see a person with a fake (I hope!) human head on a stick in front of us when we queued to collect our tickets at the pop-up box office.
Then to the film, an escapist ballet of zooming spaceships, aliens, flashing light sabres, stars streaking as we travel faster than the speed-of-light, droids, the thunderous roar of light and energy sucked from stars to fuel the destructive power of the Starkiller Base and the powerful pulse of John Williams’ score.
That at first sight, and to the casual viewer, is the essence of Star Wars yet its indelible impact on popular culture is as strong and enigmatic as The Force that infiltrates our Universe. Yet, it is more than that as it plays on the heritage of popular, arthouse and experimental filmmaking. A good example of this is how in the original Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) director George Lucas used ideas and motifs from at least 45 war movies, including most obviously The Dam Busters and 633 Squadron, to put together the dogfight sequence at the end of the film. Star Wars also draws on the Western genre that at their simplest always had goodies and baddies, as well as from documentary, science fiction and action movies.
From this collage of movies Lucas built up a filmic empire, which creates an intense technological mythology largely based on the works of scholar Joseph Campbell, who in such books as The Hero with a Thousand Faces defined the concept of the Hero Cycle. In the case of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is the hero who has to find his destiny by meeting challenges, finding allies and discovering the nature of his existence. Indeed, Lucas is credited as being the first mass media mythologist.
In Awakens we get not one but two new heroes, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), in keeping with our times it is significant that they are a woman and black man. Their equality is quickly pointed out when he tries to help her out, she says don’t hold my hand, and a few minutes later she tells him to hold her hand when he falls over. They are even more linked when, after stealing the Millennium Falcon spacecraft, they discover they are in complete harmony with this vessel. In future films we should learn more about their origins and the tasks ahead of them.
The New Republic represents democracy and freedom, whereas the First Order represents dictatorship and repression. In this mix of forces there are the intricate family ties between the main characters and the next generation, in this sense Star Wars has always gone beyond merely spaceships shooting each other down, and takes it to the human dimension of the meaning of warfare, politics and society. The films take us on cycles of power and the complexities of understanding or acknowledging The Force that binds us together in this endless struggle.
As the film progressed the weather improved and the powers of lightness took us away from the dark side, making the journey home an easy (star) trek.