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Confessions of A Middle Aged Wookie (Or A Few Hopes)

16 December 2015 | 5:58 pm | David O’Connell

"This is a journey of careful optimism."

It has been almost 40 years since those immortal words “A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” first crawled across our cinema screens.

During that time we have seen the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy as well as numerous TV shows, computer games, books, comics and ranges of comics. We are on the cusp of a new film, the first to tell the tale of Luke, Leia and Han since Return Of The Jedi rolled its credits in 1983. With the phrase “There has been an awakening...” excitement builds in the hearts of fans across the globe, and on the December 17, Star Wars: The Force Awakens launches.

This is a journey of careful optimism, as we've been burnt before. In '99 we rushed in with unbridled joy to The Phantom Menace, only to be confronted by trade embargoes and Jar Jar Binks. With horror we realised that The Clone Wars were not to be everything that we had been hoping for, but rather insipid dullness punctuated by the occasional great lightsaber duel (and John Williams' score). So the question is, Will The Force Awakens be as epoch-defining as A New Hope? 

The simple answer is no. 

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It can't be. A New Hope came out of nowhere and stunned audiences with ILM's new special effects and a way of telling stories hearkening back to the pulp era. Star Wars was a radical shift from the cerebral and somewhat dour sci-fi that had come to dominate the era. It was groundbreaking at the time, and now has an additional layer of nostalgia added to it. The Force Awakens can't be that, having to build on the already established world and tone of the series, but it can be good. With the handing of the reins over to Disney, we can see a revitalisation of a franchise.

There is no doubt that director J.J. Abrams has proven his ability to do just that, with the big budget impact he made with Star Trek in 2009. In many ways Star Wars is a better fit. Abrams' over the top action beats and dramatic tugs at the heart strings of his audience are perfect for the pulpy space opera of the Star Wars universe. Add to this veteran scriptwriters Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders Of The Lost Ark), and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and we should be on fairly safe ground. From the looks of it The Force Awakens should riff on some of the old themes of Star Wars but bring us something new and different as well. We can already see this philosophy in the redesign of iconic items such as the X-Wing and Stormtrooper armour. Both sporting a new sleeker design that is distinctive, but with a nod to the original (in fact the new T70 X-Wing owes a lot to the original Ralph McQuarrie designs for A New Hope). 

So what do we know about the new saga? Well, let's keep it simple, without any of the wild speculations. It's 30 years after the death of Vader and Emperor Palpatine on the Death Star II, and the galaxy is once again at war. The First Order has retained the doctrines of the Imperial forces (hence the whole Nuremberg rally vibe in the trailers), while the Resistance has taken the place of the Rebel Alliance. We will see a number of returning cast from the previous trilogy, including all the major players (Ford, Fisher, Hamill, Mayhew, Baker and Daniels are all on board). More importantly we will see the creation of a new generation of characters to propel the Star Wars legacy onwards: Finn (John Boyega) a Stormtrooper that has turned against the First Order; Rey (Daisy Ridley) a scavenger amongst the battle wreckage strewn across the planet Jakku;  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) an X-Wing pilot for the Resistance; BB-8, the ball-like droid that is positioned to be the new R2 D2 of the series. As well as a collection of new villains such as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Captain Phasma (Gwendeline Christie), and Supreme Commander Snoke (Andy Serkis).  

As Master Yoda said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.”. Going forward The Force Awakens saga that should mean a new film in the trilogy every two years. So the next chapter will be in 2017 with director Rian Johnson (Looper) at the helm. For the off years Disney is releasing an anthology of tales set in the classic Star Wars timeline, with Rogue One appearing 2016. Set before A New Hope, it will be looking at Rebel fighters trying to steal the plans to the Death Star. A Han Solo film and a Boba Fett film are already in the works for future releases.

We are certainly living in a golden age of geek, and the reinvigoration of the Star Wars franchise should enrich that, offering us something to look forward to annually. Although a lot is resting on The Force Awakens being a strong film out of the gate. Given the talent involved and the respectful philosophy behind its making, we should be on a safe bet. So all we can do is trust our feelings and hope the Force is with us.

Originally published by X-Press Magazine.