A story. Star Wars was one of the first films I remember seeing. My parents took me to watch The Empire Strikes Back on its original release. Not long after Return of the Jedi hit the cinemas, a pirated betamax also fell into my family's hands. And like many a family in the early 80s, my mum and dad skimped and saved so Santa could leave my brother and I Star Wars toys. The fixation didn't last but it must have helped shape my earliest years in some way, as it did for millions of others. Until watching the trailer last year, I hadn't realised quite how buried it was in my personality as something evocative of nostalgia and memory. Weirdly, there was none of this when the prequels hit the streets. It might have had something to do with them not building on Jedi and filling out the backstory instead, but those badly-acted CGI-fests left me cold. This time, not only did the trailer establish in advance The Force Awakens as a superior effort, it - at least for me - was a direct bridge across 32 years, from now to the cheeky little kid I was when Jedi's credits first rolled. Powerful stuff, and no doubt Disney were counting on it.
That makes writing about the film in dispassionate tones very difficult, so I won't. Force captured the Star Wars feel perfectly, and was everything it needed to be. Yes, it's derivative but no one was expecting a foray into anything else. It was rammed with fan service, cutting edge visuals, stunning cinematography, exceptional acting, and believable, conflicted characters. The family psychodramas are back along with the original cast, the baddies do a fine job as convincing space Nazis and the plot, while nothing new, ties it together seamlessly. It stands with the three original films, and lords it over the prequels.
While I'm sure film theory-types are going to have fun with the familial entanglements and the signifying chains in which new scenes map onto old scenes and subvert them, there's one line of interpretation I want to throw out there. Perhaps I'm sensitive to this as I approach the outer reaches of middle age, but this is a very young movie or, rather, one about thrusting aside older generations for the new. Some tentative thoughts follow, so spoilers from here on in.
First, there's the disappearance of the olds from the scene. C-3PO and R2-D2 are barely about, with the droid honours going to the brilliant and oddly-charismatic BB-8. Luke's off in hiding, Leia's running the show from base, so it's Rey and Fin doing the ass-kicking honours. Han Solo's return doesn't steal the show, but just in case wayward son Kylo Ren goes oedipal and offs him with his fancy light sabre.
The age/generation thing plays out more interestingly with the dark side. Kylo's obsessed with becoming Darth Vader, who also happens to be grandpapa. As the son put paid to Anakin Skywalker, so grandson wants to wreak generational vengeance against his uncle. Though, interestingly, Kylo's internal conflicts is a moment of The Force's many little reversals. Whereas Anakin and Luke are warned by all and sundry about the temptations of the dark side, in this Kylo wrestles with the impulse to be good. He has "forgotten" the travails of his family and rebelled by teaming up with the new empire, who now fashion themselves as the First Order. And this interests me, too. Apart from their "supreme leader", Snoke (who, sadly, reminds me of Gollum), the troops, the lackeys, the officers, they're all young. Chief among them is General Hux, a nasty piece of work with slicked hair, black uniform, and a dark fanaticism that summons every cinematic Nazi of the last 70 years. In the Star Wars universe, it could be a generation determined to re-enact an empire they grew up without. In real life, it might be a wry comment on the absence of historical memory and the kinds of consequences that result.
Overall, there's generational conflict at its heart, and as it pushes out the old and brings in the new, it appeals across generations to get the bums on seats. As far as I'm concerned, it's a must-see; a cultural moment that will be talked about for decades.