This is my hundredth post on this blog! Ravings in Cinemascope is just over three years old now and I’d love to thank all my readers, plus anyone who discovered this particular post because it’s Star Wars related. I understand. And what better way to celebrate this milestone than STAR WARS YAYAYAYAY.
With less than a day now until the Australian premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I’m really wondering whether it’s a nostalgia trip.
Of course it is. To a certain extent.
“From a certain point of view.”
Star Wars is an integral part of Western cinema; indeed it’s a cultural landmark. A whole generation of filmmakers was raised on it, including JJ Abrams, director of The Force Awakens. Abrams, as a Star Wars fan, knows what fans disliked about the prequel trilogy (though I hope he has the good sense to realise many of its faults were appalling acting and lazy visual effects, rather than scripting) and is determined not to make those mistakes. It seems he is very keen to recreate the tone of the Original Trilogy (especially the dark emotions of The Empire Strikes Back), but of course create a whole new mythology for the future of the Star Wars universe.
If anything, what Abrams is trying to make is a more mature film. The original Star Wars was released before children’s film talked down to kids. Yes, there was Disney, but far out, does anyone not remember Bambi’s mum getting shot? And a few years after Star Wars came The Goonies, a revered children’s classic full to bursting with filth and adult concepts. The idea of “it’s for kids” has shifted dramatically towards the cuddly and inoffensive in the past 20 years, and this impacted hugely on the prequels. Jar Jar Binks is “it’s for kids”, petulant brat Anakin is “it’s for kids”, but “You wanna buy some death sticks?” is a gold moment for adults and fans of Obi Wan Kenobi. From all the marketing and what we’ve otherwise heard, it could very well be argued, and it would likely be mostly correct to say, that The Force Awakens is predominantly targeted at older fans. However, it’s not unfair to also believe that it’s also a mature film that kids new to the series can enjoy.
[To digress slightly onto the subject of new fans, I hope Abrams is sensible enough to structure the film like A New Hope. There’s not a scene in that film that doesn’t discreetly offer some world-building information about the wider context of events, but without being obvious and ham-fisted exposition. The scene in the boardroom of the Death Star is brilliant for this. Not a single event or line of dialogue in that sequence is anything but exposition, but it respectfully assumes that the viewer is intelligent enough to do some world-building on their own based on these few lines. The stuff about the dissolution of the Senate is particularly good; it’s so brief but Tarkin’s single line reveals that a huge amount of history has just been swept aside.]
Anyway, all this guff about nostalgia being a bad thing misses the point of nostalgia. It’s positive. Isn’t that why kids invent all new stories with Star Wars action figures? I never thought I would get to see new Star Wars at the cinema and nor did a great many other people. Nostalgia is what gives me a frisson every time I watch the climactic rescue of the Fireflash at the end of the first episode of Thunderbirds. It’s what gets me excited at the sight of the James Bond gunbarrel. It’s why I still jump every time the first note of the Star Wars theme blares out of the TV. You relive that experience of seeing things for the first time; you remember the emotions, you remember the investment you had in these characters. I first saw Star Wars on a videorecording taped from a TV broadcast, cooped up with my siblings and a cousin in an aunt’s bedroom as the adults enjoyed a dinner party. We were captivated, especially my first younger brother who went from pirate obsession to spaceships in the blink of an eye. I can remember begging my Dad to let me watch The Empire Strikes Back (“I have to check whether the rating allows you to see it,” ignoring the fact that he himself had seen it at the cinema, and collected all the tie-in bubblegum cards, aged a whole year younger than me). I can remember being so stressed that Luke wouldn’t get off the Death Star before it blew up at the end of Return of the Jedi. The fact that I can remember all this stuff and currently have the biggest grin on my face speaks to the power of nostalgia.
Original stories and original films are important and should be celebrated. This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to also enjoy your memories. When life is tough and the world is going to hell in a handbasket, sometimes it’s good to sit back for a couple of hours and remember exactly why Han Solo is still cooler than James Bond. Star Wars is a huge part of many peoples’ lives, and it is destined to become a part of many more. Even if this new film turns out to be rubbish (and the post-premiere tweeting suggests this concern may be unfounded), I’ll never forget the excitement and fun of this past few months, as the world came together in anticipation of what happens when The Force Awakens.