We probably all had an idea in our heads of what Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens would be like. Full of razor-sharp dialogue, grand action sequences and callbacks to the original trilogy, it would effortlessly transcend all cinema to date while simultaneously telling a striking and easily accessible story, bringing in new fans and satisfying old ones.
Our imaginary Episode VII would perfectly lead on from Return of the Jedi while vanquishing the memory of the hated prequels, introduce new characters while respecting the legacy of the original cast and include dizzying plot twists while remaining completely cogent and well-paced.
Yep, the Force Awakens of our minds was quite a film. But the real Force Awakens is not that film – and in my mind, that makes it better than all the fan-servicing glory we were hoping for.
In his take on the universe built by George Lucas, JJ Abrams has not just coughed out a glorified fan fiction. Instead he’s taken his lead from the very first Star Wars film, A New Hope, and created a messy yet satisfying romp through space that doesn’t really care about filling in the backstory or satisfying every question held by the audience. The Force Awakens only wants to tell a good story – and it achieves that goal in spades.
Sure, there are plenty of homages to the original films and yes, many of the old cast appear, but the focus here is firmly on the new. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver take centre stage, while old favourites like Leia, Luke, C-3PO and R2-D2 are kept more to the sidelines (Han Solo being the exception), and that’s the right decision. Rather than any crowd-pleasing retreading of old ground you get the sense of a fictional world in motion, with new heroes and new battles to fight long after the optimistic end of Return of the Jedi.
In the hands of fans, the movie would probably have spelled out the exact course of events that led to the reforming of the Empire as the First Order over 30-plus years, and the other changes that had befallen the galaxy in the interim. The Force Awakens instead presents a new status quo; just as Darth Vader strode into Leia’s spaceship in A New Hope, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren walks onto Jakku this time around, and just as The Empire were set up as the bad guys in the original trilogy the First Order are now the unquestioned scourge of the galaxy. Our hands aren’t held through the changes because this is just how things are to these characters, and that’s quite refreshing.
Elsewhere, the idealised version of the Force Awakens in your mind will be further dashed. Luke probably doesn’t appear in the way everyone would hope, Han Solo’s storyline might not satisfy you as much as the version in the Expanded Universe novels, and you might think that you could have choreographed a more complex lightsaber duel. Heck, you might even think that the real film’s big twist isn’t as good as the Darth Binks theory.
But no film could live up to the infinite and vague possibilities of our imaginations – and instead of that perfect, impossible movie we’ve been given something else. A film that, while following similar plot beats to older movies, does something original. A film that tells a new story through a familiar lens, taking us on a compelling journey with unknown characters through an unfamiliar universe. A slightly over-dense romp through a galaxy chock-full of wonders that suffers from the odd bit of clunky dialogue and rushed plotting, but makes it up through charm, imagination and fantastic action sequences.
In other words, against the odds we’ve ended up with the first authentic Star Wars film since 1983. Now who’d have seen that coming?
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is released in UK cinemas from 17th December
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news