This post doesn’t contain spoilers regarding what happens in Star Wars Episode VII. I promise!
I could have titled this post ‘Why I’m a big Star Wars nerd’, but it emerges from my reflections around the pro- and anti- Episode VII hype. As the film was released today, social and traditional media are filled with cries of ‘I can’t wait to see it’, ‘I’ve got no interest in seeing it’ or ‘I’d rather scratch out my eyeballs than see it’.
Why is Star Wars a franchise that people either love or dismiss? What is it about the series of films (especially Episodes IV, V and VI, and now VII) which drew so many of us in and continues to capture imaginations, 38 years after Episode IV was released? Why did I choose to go alone to the cinema (for the first time ever) to watch Episode VII today (apart from that my children were in school and I was on holidays, so I could)? Why did I watch the new episode with simultaneous anticipation, nostalgic joy, emotional investment and white-knuckle excitement?
One answer is that Star Wars films, like Shakespeare’s plays or Orwell’s novels, communicate the universality of humanity; the essence of what it is to be a person in the world. The films talk of the light and darkness within us all; our capacities for good and bad, kindness and cruelty, bravery and fear. In Star Wars, these struggles are internal and external; they happen within characters and across galaxies. Within the action-packed, emotion-charged fantasy world of Star Wars, we see the complexities of being human. We are shown the power of looking out for others, and of gaining self-control and self-awareness. We see people’s capacities for good and evil, quests for power, journeys of identity-becoming or identity-unravelling. The ethics of technology and the use and abuse of power are questioned.
Star Wars creates a universe in which heroes, male and female, ‘feel the Force’ and ‘search their feelings’. They are sensitive to the shared energies of the world around them, as well as a having a keen awareness of inner self and deeply felt emotion. It’s a world where heroes can be small, green creatures which speak in confused syntax, tall furry ones, or robots. Where mentorship and courage are found in unlikely places and anyone can save the galaxy, as long as they’re in touch with their senses and their feelings, and they have friends to support them on their journey.
At the beating heart of Star Wars is not the special effects, which have often been cutting edge for their time, but the relationships. We see the connections, compassion and conflict between friends, strangers, enemies, lovers and family, and combinations of these. These are underlined by the movies’ familiar scores, recognisable leitmotifs and iconic costumes which help to embed viewers in, and propel viewers along with, characters’ story arcs.
This time around, in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, battles for power re-emerge, but there is a little more 21st century diversity of gender and race. There is a female villain, a female heroine, a female general and a black hero, as well as the usual array of characters of various species, languages, sizes and levels of machination. While the film can be seen as an escape from reality, the universal themes of goodness, family, friendship and courage to do what is right or fight for those about whom you care, continue to resonate and have something to say about the world in which we live.
Fans of the original trilogy will be satisfied by Episode VII. It’s a fan’s film, a reawakening of the original spirit of the series, with plenty of recognisable hat-tip references. The movie brings together familiar Star Wars characters with new characters and modern special effects. It is funny and emotional. Fast paced and with enough unanswered questions to leave the audience intrigued for Episodes VIII and IX. The film doesn’t carve a new path for the Star Wars brand, but it does take its audience forward by embracing its past. My nerdy child-of-the-80s heart was bursting with old-school-meets-new-school Star Wars love.
Postscript: This post, written after a second viewing of the film, DOES contain spoilers.