The Force Awakens
For audiences in 1977, the experience of seeing Star Wars for the first time must have been something quite awesome. As the opening credits fade into star-spangled space and give way to the massive Imperial Star Destroyer thundering across the screen, it’s easy to see why a whole generation was sucked into the adventure taking place on their local cinema screen, but transporting them to a galaxy far, far away.
Released almost 40 years ago, Star Wars is now ingrained in our culture. In the UK census of 2001, over 390,000 people identified their religion as ‘Jedi Knight’, surpassing Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism. The US Government’s Strategic Defense Initiative was dubbed the Star Wars programme, which Lucasfilm unsuccessfully tried to sue for. Sticks/torches/lollipops immediately become lightsabers in the hands of boys of any age. This very article is being written with a super cool blue lightsaber pen, on a Stormtrooper notepad, while I have a brew from my Yoda mug. Certain moments in the original trilogy have become some of the most universally recognisable and quotable in film history – ‘I am your Father’ (my 12yr old mind: blown!) Such is the omnipresent nature of the franchise.
It’s an heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. Older men tell tales of the ‘Original Trilogy’, a simpler time when Princess Leia, Han Solo and Obi Wan were esteemed like Greek gods, where alien worlds were distant and strange but familiar and inviting, and where a little green goblin could lift spaceships using only his mind. Young people speak in hushed tones of the ‘Age of The Prequels’, a period of political unrest and intergalactic trade embargoes, where the mysterious ‘Force’ became microscopic life forms known as Midi-chlorians, the great Sith Lord Darth Vader regressed to being a moody teen, and a creature named Jar Jar Binks threatened to bring the whole thing crashing in on itself.
Now, though, with the imminent release of ‘Episode VII – The Force Awakens’, a new hope arises. Fathers across the land are dusting off their DVD Box sets, desperate to initiate their younglings into this piece of history, brought back to life for a new generation.
The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after the events of the original trilogy, and it would seem that the Jedi and the Force have become some kind of galactic myth. The Empire was defeated, but not destroyed. A new threat is emerging; obsessed with continuing the legacy of a certain helmeted asthmatic. Solo and Leia are now very old, Luke is a mystery and recluse, R2D2 hasn’t aged a day, and the baton appears to be passing to a new generation of hero who know little of their legacy. But, as Han’s voiceover confirms, ‘It’s true… all of it!’ *cue shivers*.
It’s the mix of old and new which seems to be getting fans excited, and is most likely the key to its inevitable stratospheric success. Pretty much all the central cast of the original trilogy are returning (no word yet on a Jar Jar cameo, other than rumours of remains scattered across the desert of Tatooine), including Mark Hamill, reprising his role as Luke Skywalker: ‘[The Force Awakens] seemed to combine so many elements of things that were instantly recognisable but put together in a new way,’ says Hamill. ‘Everything old is new again… It’s a seamless recreation of that world that George [Lucas] created, and yet with all new situations and characters.’
If Hamill is representative of the old-school, then newcomer John Boyega, as Finn, is the access point for a whole new generation of Star Wars addicts: ‘Finn is definitely the physical representation of the young generation when it comes to the Star Wars universe,’ says Boyega. ‘Star Wars has a huge following but there is a small percentage of young people who haven’t been introduced to the Star Wars universe… Finn is their direct link. He doesn’t know what’s going on and is freaked out by droids and aliens.’
Star Wars is a phenomenon. It inspires zealousness in its fans like nothing else – just spend ten minutes on the forums of Wookieepedia for evidence of this. Estimates vary, but it’s believed that almost 80 per cent of the U.S. Population have seen at least one Star Wars film. It helped change the landscape of Hollywood films, from intimate, character-based stories, to sprawling, effects-laden blockbusters. It almost single-handedly helped Fox to recover from being an almost bankrupt production company to becoming a thriving studio.
But more importantly than its financial and cultural impact, Star Wars is personal. It’s a franchise that captures hearts and imaginations like nothing else. It’s a mythology for modern day, beloved by all ages. Like an old friend, it’s a world to return to time and time again. It’s a world I love, and one I can’t wait to introduce my kids to!
Nev Pierce, editor at-large for Empire magazine, tells us why Star Wars works.
What’s your earliest/fondest memory of Star Wars?
Probably being bewildered by the (relatively) downbeat ending of Empire Strikes Back. Like, ‘You can’t end HERE!’ Over the years, of course, this became my favourite Star Wars movie.
Why do you think it’s such a phenomenon?
There are mythic elements that resonate – Lucas was influenced by Joseph Campbell’s book on story The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Kurosawa, but the glorious nonsense of Star Wars is his. Combine the epic, colourful and exciting world with a certain naivety – and hope – and that’s powerful. That’s a pretentious way of saying: a boy like us got to fly spaceships.
What most excites you about this new release?
It’s a new story, using some beloved characters, but also new faces. It’s extending the picture. And, you know, LIGHTSABERS!
A New Hope
Legendary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan returns to the Star Wars fold after writing The Empire Strikes Back and co-penning Return of the Jedi nearly three decades ago.
In broad strokes, do you remember the key elements that needed to be in the film?
Right from the start, there was a meeting of the minds about the things we wanted the new Star Wars to be. How it would be similar to the first trilogy. How would it be different, because times have changed and it’s been imitated so much. All our thoughts were similar. The movies had to get back to being tactile, rather than CGI. One of the wonderful things about the first trilogy is that it’s kind of funky and puts on a show.
Then, things that interested us in the story were similar. It was a family saga, and we talked about how we could continue to play that in interesting ways – not just for new generations but for the people who saw A New Hope originally 40 years ago.
So, you’re paying tribute to a tradition, a saga that has made an impact beyond anyone’s imagination. You’re trying to be supportive of it; loyal, honest, respectful of it and, at the same time, move it forward.
How much did you talk about balancing visual effects with the practical?
We discussed balancing the effects and the physical properties of the movie endlessly. It was the primary issue for us. How do we take a human story with relatable themes and keep it feeling like a real story that’s been done by actors on real sets?
With the original cast returning, how much fun was it to revisit those characters?
It’s great to come back to characters you love. Leia and Han are great people to write for and now I’ve done it a lot. For someone who is their age, there’s poignancy about how we lose our physical resilience. We deal with many things over a course of a lifetime. Some take a toll and some show up in lines in our face. When you stop resisting it, it can be a glorious thing. You’re grateful and appreciative for this journey that puts you through so many different paces. When you see Carrie Fisher and you see Harrison Ford, you see all that. We’ve followed them since they were so young. For Harrison to walk back onto the Millennium Falcon as Han, I don’t think anyone can watch it and not be thrilled. He looks so right and so comfortable. In the same way, Carrie Fisher had a cerebral nature at 21 and she’s got it now. The dream in a movie is to bring out what’s best in an actor, whether they’re 12 or 70.
What is your hope for this film?
I used one word from the beginning: it must delight. When you have John Williams writing the music, you’re part of the way there. When you have this entire group of craftsmen creating the images, you’re part of the way there. When Dan Mindel shoots a movie, you’re going to be delighted and when J.J. directs a movie, you’ll be delighted. We want them to say it delighted me, made me laugh, made me excited and the images affected my body in a way I have no control over. That’s what great movies do.
The chances of successfully navigating an asteroid field according to C-3PO.
Total global box office takings for all six films so far.
The price paid for a Boba Fett action figure, the most expensive Star Wars toy ever sold in auction.
The number killed when the first Death Star exploded. (265,675 crew members, 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 30,984 stormtroopers, 42,782 ship support staff, and 180,216 pilots and support crew – in case you were wondering).
The number of minutes (13 hours 17 minutes – plus an extra 5 mins for the Special Editions) it takes to watch all six films.
Han The Man
First appearing as Han Solo in the opening instalment of the Star Wars saga back in 1977, Harrison Ford will reprise his role as the Millennium Falcon captain in The Force Awakens.
Did you need persuading to come back?
I had a degree of self-interest. I was very gratified when I first saw the script and thought there were some amazing ideas. Then I was very excited for the opportunity to work with J.J. Abrams, whom I’ve known for a long time.
What did J.J. Abrams tell you about his vision?
We had discussions about development of that character and his relationship to other characters in the story. They were very interesting and encouraging conversations. Then there was some work done in respect of the questions I had or input that I had with J.J. Abrams and I was pleased with that.
Walking back on the Millennium Falcon set, what was that like?
I spent a lot of years here, so it was fun to see it again. I didn’t remember it as well as I thought I did. There are things I remember about the cockpit and the funny stuff we went through. On the original cockpit, I asked George to let us get into it, so we could try it on for size. Finally, we did get a chance, Chewie and I, to walk into the cockpit. Of course, he couldn’t get into the seat. Flying it developed a little bit between iterations of the first three films, but it started to come back to me.
What is it like working with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega?
They are both very engaging personalities; both in their real lives and in their screen characters. I think the audiences will be delighted to make their acquaintance and follow them through the story.
What do you hope audiences will take away from this film?
Recognition of our common humanity and that all of us face the same kinds of problems in our lives, and that there’s hope. There’s joy in the celebration of right and wrong and in the recognition of truth that sustains us. And, they’ll have fun along the way.