If you’ve managed to avoid living in a cave for the last 18 months, you’ll know The Force Awakens comes out on Thursday. I have tickets for Friday night (come back late Friday for my spoiler-free review) and I couldn’t be more excited. So excited, in fact, I want to tell you what makes the initial film so good.
Star Wars (or “A New Hope“, or “The First One. No, not Episode One, that was The Phantom Menace, and that was terrible. The first one chronologically. Episode Four. Not the fourth one… you know what, forget it“) hardly even counts as a film now. It’s this thing that just floats around, part of everyone’s common lexicon. It isn’t any one thing anymore. It just is.
Upon realising my girlfriend hadn’t seen any of the films, I of course immediately forced her in to it. While I’m pretty sure she enjoyed it, I felt a little sorry for her (and not just for having a boyfriend who forces her to watch films). Watching Star Wars for the first time now is impossible. You can’t sit back and enjoy it as a film. It’s this thing that you have to like by law, but already know almost every part of it. How the hell are you supposed to be intimidated by Darth Vader when you’ve seen a child cosplay as him in a VW advert?
All of this is a massive shame, because what gets lost along the way is what a good film it actually is.
The key to what makes the film work is how insanely well paced it is. It’s a deliberate pace, but not a slow one. It doesn’t rush in to anything, and lets things linger for just long enough, even though those moments might not be as “exciting” as they could be. It lets you breathe, lets you absorb, allowing you to feel suitably ready and invested for when the exciting bit does come along. It’s very much a film of its time in that way.
Of course, this perfect pacing means that you allow can start with a farm boy moaning about chores, end up with him saving the universe in a spaceship fight, and at no point feel like there’s been an unrealistic jump. It takes a series of events that could be completely overwhelming if handled in a ham-fisted way, and instead gives you just long enough at each stage to believe in it.
On top of this, it’s just good storytelling. It is good vs. evil, hope vs. fear. It may be famous for the special effects and all that stuff, but it’s so much more than that. While it might not have become the phenomena that it did without them, the film would actually work even if it were played without CGI. A young man learning the ropes and finding out that he actually was a hero deep down all along is such a classic story that the lasers and spaceships and stuff just cap it off. It’s what makes an aesthetically awful lightsaber duel work so God-damned well. It just works.
It’s for this reason that there are now six films since this one. While the phenomena itself is what has carried this wave of euphoria, without a genuinely brilliant film at the start of it this wouldn’t be possible. You can put all the bells and whistles you want on top of it, but at the heart is a good story. If it didn’t have this, it would just be The Phantom Menace. And lord knows that wouldn’t have started a thing. Apart from projectile vomit, perhaps.
Now, nothing I say here will change your view on it. If you love it, you don’t need me to tell you why you like it. If you don’t, nothing a 20-odd-year-fanboy can say will make you want to check it out. But next time you do watch it, try to forget the Vodafone adverts. Try to put everything you already know about the film and what it means in pop culture to one side, and watch it on its own merits.
Because it’s genuinely a fantastic film.
Star Wars Rating: A Perfectly Paced, Well-Told Vodafone Advert