Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The ending, and what it means for Episode VIII
A Darth Vader waffle maker? You really shouldn’t have….
Han Solo’s line in the new “Stars Wars” film could also apply to Walt Disney Co. and the team of filmmakers, marketers and distribution executives who delivered a record-breaking weekend debut, setting the stage for years of movies, merchandise and attractions tied to the most successful science-fiction franchise in history. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” collected $238 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, topping the $208.8 million hauled in by Universal Studios’ “Jurassic World” in June, Disney said Sunday in a statement. A gaggle of Stormtroopers and the droid R2-D2 were spotted in West Wing Friday, as the seat of US executive power succumbed to intergalactic-sized hype around the new blockbuster Star Wars movie. When the first trilogy began back in the late 70s, I was old enough to be wedded to the darker, moodier sci-fi of Solaris, Silent Running and Soylent Green, and young enough to believe that gave me the right to dismiss this latterday Buck Rogers nonsense out of hand. Last week, it was already handsomely in profit from its new range of toys and knick-knacks even before the massive two-hour commercial for them had come out. Now, as Episode VII rolls around, ushering in a new generation of sequels, I find myself at an age so out of whack with the film’s target demographic that what I think about it matters not a jot.
People say John Lewis has been canny by making an annual mawkish short film instead of having someone shouting: “It’s deals deals deals at John Lewis this Christmas!”, but this is really taking it up a level. With a film whose existence is rooted in fan culture, describing the movie is perilous; even revealing the cast list runs the risk of providing potential plot spoilers.
Suffice to say that the action takes place some years after the events of Return of the Jedi, and involves scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) teaming up with renegade “First Order” Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and globular droid BB-8. The opening scroll sets up an ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil and lays the groundwork for a quasi-mythical quest that will reunite friends old and new, and allow a grizzled Harrison Ford to deliver the line that turned the teaser trailers into something akin to an announcement of the second coming: “Chewie, we’re home…” That sense of coming home runs throughout The Force Awakens, director JJ Abrams working the same regenerative miracle with the Star Wars franchise that he previously pulled off with his Star Trek movies – taking the series back to its roots while giving it a rocket-fuelled, 21st-century twist.
Lots and lots of toys obviously – figures and ships and costumes and Lego and versions of Monopoly – but other crazy stuff like Darth Vader waffle makers, Millennium Falcon Bluetooth speakers, furry Chewbacca slippers, and endless mugs and T-shirts and pens and Christmas decorations. As always with this director, the film feels very physical, scenes of dog-fighting TIE fighters and a relaunched Millennium Falcon crashing through trees possessing the kind of heft so sorely lacking from George Lucas’s over-digitised prequels. Having co-written the series’s previous high-water mark, The Empire Strikes Back, Lawrence Kasdan here shares credits with Abrams and Michael Arndt on a screenplay that is steeped in the dark lineages of the originals (and does not sidestep moments of genuine tragedy), but which subtly realigns its gender dynamics with Rey’s proudly punchy, post-Hunger Games heroine.
The spectre of Vader may live on in Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, but it’s Rey in whom the film’s true force resides, likable newcomer Daisy Ridley channelling Carrie Fisher’s Leia and carrying the heavily-mantled weight of the new series with aplomb. They were my equivalent of tin soldiers, Lego, fresh air or any of the other things that little boys are encouraged to obsess over and I would play out endless battles and adventures on various thickly carpeted planets, where the only cover from an incoming TIE fighter attack came from the giant coffee-table- and magazine-rack-like natural features of the weird extraterrestrial landscape. Looking back, there is no doubt that, scintillating though I found the films, I derived many times, and many hundreds of hours, more pleasure from the merchandise. Abrams has always been a fan first, and there’s a palpable affection in his staging of scenes that recall the varied alien wildlife of Tatooine’s Mos Eisley Cantina.
Just as he proved himself a worthy successor to Spielberg with Super 8, so Abrams here breathes new life into Lucas’s epochal creations in a manner that deftly looks back to the future. Watching the film in a packed auditorium with an audience almost incandescent with expectation, I found myself listening to a chorus of spontaneous gasps, cheers, laughs, whoops and even occasional cries of anguish.
The market for hilariously apt dust-gatherers is vast and growing – it makes up a significant proportion of the Christmas shopping spike and we probably can’t do without it. There was a huge sale at Christie’s of the former prime minister’s stuff, some of it fetching absurd sums: £37,500 for a signed copy of a speech, £266,500 for a ceramic eagle given to her by Ronald Reagan and £242,500 for an old dispatch box.
In total, the sale made millions, which must have made the Thatcher heirs wonder what might have been if only they’d found the right brand partners. Margaret Thatcher’s father was a grocer and George Lucas’s ran a stationery store, so neither of them would think there’s anything grubby about retail.
And, as my parents can attest from my requirements of Father Christmas throughout the 1980s, Star Wars’s primary role as a moulded-plastic merchant long predates Lucasfilm’s takeover by Disney. Johnson is the latest in a long line of politicians charged with the funding of academic research who thinks it needs to prove its worth in advance; that highly educated people working hard to fill the gaps in human knowledge never got us anywhere, and what those spendthrift boffins need to do is direct their research towards a readily monetisable goal. “The government has committed to protect science and research… and we need to make sure we’re getting the most from this investment,” he said, as he commissioned Lord Stern to breathe down the necks of the whole well-meaning, under-resourced academic sector. It may seem like a frivolous example but it’s worth considering (had Lord Stern’s review been around then) which elements of the prodigious output of 19th-century mathematician Charles Dodgson would have found favour with the spending review.
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