10 minutes ago, in a suburb pretty close by, a heavyset middle-aged man returned his collection of unopened Star Wars figurines to the shelf. A ruthless apex-collector, he dusts them once a week; a ritual that has become less about maintaining their pristine condition – though seriously, they are as beautiful as a Tatooine sunset – and more about marking time. Another week down, another day closer to opening night.
No matter where you fit on the fandom scale, from Star Wars virgin to Star Wars virgin (one term, two very different meanings), The Force Awakens’ media blitz has been impossible to escape. The orchestrated assault, the relentless drip-feed of information – from cast announcements to Japanese TV spots – has ensured, at the very least, that anyone with an internet connection knows that there is a NEW GODDAMN STAR WARS MOVIE COMING OUT!
Despite the ill feeling towards the prequel trilogy, it was not until Lucasfilm was sold to Disney in 2012 that many fans truly feared that Star Wars had gone to the Dark Side. What soulless merchandising cash ins awaited? As the poorly received-yet-highly lucrative prequel trilogy proved, Star Wars-branded anything was a license to print money.
But then suddenly, reports, photos and finally footage arrived. And it was… beautiful. With all of the TIE fighters, laser blasts, and Death Stars (sorry, Star Killer base), the franchise to which fans clung so dearly looked like it might stand a fighting chance.
While it’s in Disney’s interest to pummel us with their multi-platform media blitz, it wasn’t our obligation to care. But the 30.65 million opening day views for the second trailer proved we did care, and we were waiting…with baited breath. Don’t get your hopes up? Yeah, good luck with that.
Here are five reasons why the Star Wars: The Force Awakens will probably, almost certainly justify the hype.
1. J.J. Abrams is on Board
There is a natural order to the way we live. You would never see Paul McCartney laying down a rhythm track for The Rolling Stones, Messi hitting the back of the net for Real, or a Star Trek director swapping out the USS Enterprise for the Millennium Falcon. So when J.J. Abrams was announced as director for The Force Awakens there were the inevitable online petitions and social media chatter speaking out against such sci-fi sacrilege. Two years later, it feels like he is the only one who could’ve been tasked with such a mammoth job.
Both critically and commercially, Abrams’ Star Trek films were smash hits. Displaying a canny knack for picking the best elements from the occasionally patchy source materials, Abrams created films that appeased most fans while appealing to the mainstream market. But while it was Abrams’ ability to lift the strongest elements from the Star Trek cannon that gives him credence, it was his 2011 film Super 8 that rubber-stamped him as the right director for the job.
Fans can take comfort in the fact that Abrams – a self-confessed Star Wars tragic – has proven he is very good at making big things go boom, but the key to making a great Star Wars film is capturing the right tone and spirit. While Super 8 is considered a nod to the works of Steven Spielberg, Abrams has explained it as more of a homage to the late ’70s/early ’80s, and it was George Lucas who defined this specific time and place that Abrams romanticizes. The Star Wars brand of storytelling is what Abrams was raised on, and it’s at the core of his work, which is why he is the right and perfect choice to bring Star Wars back to life.
2. No More George Lucas
The galaxies had aligned when Lucas released Star Wars. Bringing together the themes of his debut feature THX 1138, the heart of American Graffiti, and a story he’d been mulling over his entire life, Lucas struck at a time when technology had finally reached a point which allowed him to capture his grand vision.
By the time Lucas returned to the Star Wars universe for the prequel trilogy he was no longer answering to the studio, he was the studio. His fixation on technology and what the continuing advancements could mean for filmmaking ironically came at expense of the actual filmmaking, and the films were panned for overworked CGI, wooden performances (thanks green screen) and the clunky trilogy tie-ins.
At the time of sale, Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm allegedly included Lucas-penned treatments for a new trilogy, though it appears Disney sought to avoid revisiting previous mistakes and the teen-focused story was abandoned. “The ones that I sold to Disney, they came up to the decision that they didn’t really want to do those,” Lucas told Cinema Blend. “So they made up their own.”
While the title of “creative consultant” appears to be one bestowed out of respect, Lucas has remained pretty classy about the whole affair, reiterating that he is looking forward to enjoying a Star Wars film from the perspective of a fan for the first time. Thanks for the (good) memories George.
3. Real Sets Are Favored Over CGI
The ghastly digital remastering of the original trilogy in the late ’90s was akin to touching up Mona Lisa’s makeup with a crayon, but this did not dissuade Lucas as his fetish for CGI grew unabated until we were suddenly stuck in a field with an army of utterly un-intimidating separatist droids facing off against a rabble of ridiculously annoying Gungans. Seriously, where is a fully operational Death Star when you need one?
The focus on the forthcoming trilogy has been on the tangible. As The Force Awakens’ production designer Darren Gilford can attest, Abrams is all about kicking it old school.
“J.J.’s mandate from day one was authenticity and being as true to the original trilogy as possible. And he felt the prequels were flawed by the fact that they had every [CG] tool known to mankind and used everything at their disposal.”
A return to location shoots and a greater reliance on physical models and tangible props may not have been the most fashionable or cost effective choice, but as illustrated by the grittier and more lived-in universe we have seen, it was a no-brainer.
4. The Return of the TIE Fighter
For all the shade thrown at the prequel trilogy, it did execute several elements well. The lightsaber duels were a step up in quality, Darth Maul was a villain deserving of a far better movie, and the sound design was stunning. That said, one distinctive sound has stood out in The Force Awakens trailers – the chilling return of the TIE fighter.
When we’re talking iconic sounds, the buzz of the lightsaber comes to mind, as does Darth Vader’s pressurized breathing, but has there been a more emotive sound then the TIE fighter’s distinctive scream? Sure, their absence from the prequel trilogy can be attributed to the fact that TIE fighters hadn’t been invented yet (we’ll give you that one, George), yet the sound of these merchants of death and destruction soaring across the skies once again is another reminder of what we’d been missing.
It’s unsurprising that the sound itself was created, almost by accident, in the hands-on DIY approach that typified the original trilogy. Having been struck by the sound of the Nazi rockets while watching a WWII documentary, Lucas tasked sound engineer Ben Burtt with the assignment of trying to recreate the hellish wail. Burtt eventually stumbled on the recordings of an elephant stampede and isolated a blood-curdling shriek. Slowing it down and stretching the sample out, Burtt was able to create the signature sound of the Empire.
5. Oscar Isaac Headlines a Talented Cast
It’s a running precedent for the Star Wars franchise to heap the weight on inexperienced shoulders. On one hand, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher were born to play Luke and Leia, and Han Solo made Harrison Ford a superstar. On the other hand, Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen…ehh, not so much.
Again, the majority of the action seems to revolve around two relative newcomers with Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s intergalactic odd couple – she was space royalty, he was just another Stormtrooper – taking center stage, but it’s the casting of Oscar Isaac as X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron which has us most excited.
At the moment, no one is quite crushing it like Isaac, who’s excelling in films including Inside Llewyn Davis, The Two Faces Of January, Ex Machina, A Most Violent Year, and HBO’s Show Me a Hero. From tech gurus and folk musicians, to street hustlers and city councilmen, Isaac’s range is significant, as is his ability to ground his characters – be them heroes or villains – in an authentic way.
Isaac seems to be one of those actors who lifts the performances of those around him, but the curve ball thus far is that Isaac hasn’t had much to do yet, other than grimace intently and fly his fighter into an impressive looking battle. Has this been an elaborate bait-and-switch from Abrams, with the conspicuous absence of Luke Skywalker fueling speculation that significant elements of the story have been kept on ice ahead of the premiere? Add up-and-comers like Adam Driver, who’s also crushing it as the villainous Kylo Ren, and The Force Awakens has some serious thespian credibility.
Disney wagered there was still life in the galaxy yet. It was a safe bet with fans desperate for a return to form, fueling the inevitable hype. But will this hype be justified? In assembling a killer cast, returning to a more hands-on approach to filmmaking, and undertaking a clear and unbiased assessment of what made the franchise great in the first place, Abrams has given himself the best shot. The Force is strong with this one.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
- Author: Tom Sheldrick