The day is fast approaching when we gather our loved ones together to celebrate a simple man who brought a message of joy to millions: our Lord, George Lucas. Yes, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is now showing in cinemas, and we Wookiee-worshippers are thronging the pews down at the local multiplex, ringing in a whole new era of ‘Star Wars’ fandom.
But what about those poor souls who have never seen ‘Star Wars’? Who have never felt the simple joy of robot banter or the warmth of an Ewok’s campfire? When I learn that one of my good friends – former Time Out TV expert Phil Harrison – is suffering from just such deprivation, I have to step in.
Despite growing up in the early ’80s heyday of ‘Star Wars’ mania, Phil has somehow managed to miss all six movies. He puts on a brave face, but I can tell that deep down he is crying out for some Yoda-like guidance. In a spirit of festive generosity, I decide to take him under my X-wing and tutor him once and for all in the ways of the Force. It’s time for a marathon.
Following a heated outcry on Twitter (‘for the love of God, think of the newbie!’ screamed one @timeoutfilm follower) I opt to present the trilogy in release order, starting with the cheerful low-budget thrills of the original and working up to the CG-slathered sprawl of the prequels. Fuelled with pizza, blue milk and strong beer, and surrounded by a rogues’ gallery of action figures and memorabilia, we blast off to a galaxy far, far away…
Star Wars: The Force awakens (2015)
J J Abrams’s Star Wars reboot is as thrilling and playful as anyone could have hoped – a masterly revival of old themes and faces
By Joshua Rothkopf
Not only expert homage for the fans but a first-rate, energised piece of mega-Hollywood adventure, the hugely anticipated ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ stirs more to life than just The Force. The rollicking, space-opera spirit of George Lucas’s original trilogy (you can safely forget the second trio of cynical, tricked-up prequels) emanates from every frame of J J Abrams’s euphoric sequel. It’s also got an infusion of modern-day humour that sometimes steers the movie this close to self-parody – but never sarcastically, nor at the expense of a terrific time.
The wheel need not be reinvented: virtually every plot point and action beat comes from 1977’s ‘Star Wars’ or 1980’s ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (you even get a dormant lightsaber shivering in the snow), yet that’s perfectly fine when the vigour is this electric. Life is still a drag on arid desert planets like Jakku, where scrappy Rey (Daisy Ridley, a strong-jawed find) sells scavenged parts of old battle destroyers. Crash-landing onto her world is Finn (John Boyega), a Storm trooper shocked out of his violent path serving the evil First Order by an impulse to do the right thing. On the run, they hijack the decrepit Millennium Falcon – ‘The garbage will do,’ says Rey in the first of many exhilarating reveals – and take off toward a radicalising destiny in the Resistance.
Abrams (‘Star Trek’, ‘Super 8’), a master mimic unafraid to revive Lucas’s old-school wipes and frame-gobbling space ships, brings a light touch to the performances: there’s better acting in ‘The Force Awakens’ than in all the Star Wars movies combined. BB-8, a whirling football-like droid that plays like WALL-E’s mouthier cousin, might be best of the bunch – he’s a new high for cinema’s expressive machines (and a nod to Lucas’s love for gearhead invention). Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher bring unexpected pathos to roles they sometimes used to drift through. The greying hair helps.
But once again, a black-clad villain steals the show: mystical Dark Sider Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wears the robes, face-obscuring helmet and ferocious demeanour of you-know-who, with a distorted basso bark that actually improves on the breathy squawk of James Earl Jones. Fortunately, the actor gets to do more than menace, steering the movie towards a heartbreaking scene of personal confusion that plays like a franchise high. Elsewhere – and hilariously – the film is crammed with those effete British-accented middle managers, gulping down fear in his presence. Quibblers who can’t recognise a labour of love will point to how the film repeats the same old space fascism: a bigger Death Star, a scummier cantina. But it’s wonderful to be back at the bar.
Star Wars (1977)
9.02am For me, the opening of ‘Star Wars’ is like coming home: everything’s just where you left it, and all your friends are there to greet you (I know, I know, it’s pathetic). But might it look a bit rough-around-the-edges to someone who’s never visited before? ‘It reminds me of old “Doctor Who”,’ says Phil, and I have to resist the urge to hit him over the head with my plastic lightsaber.
9.13am R2-D2 is kidnapped by the junk-dealing Jawas. ‘Is that a wookiee?’ asks Phil. No, it’s not a wookiee. ‘Is it an orc?’ Not for the last time, I channel my inner Jedi master and exercise patience.
10.01am Phil is making our trip even more nostalgic by repeating almost word-for-word the observations my dad would make when we watched ‘Star Wars’ on telly at Christmas. So Darth Vader ‘has a respiratory problem’, C-3PO ‘is a bit camp’ and R2 ‘looks like a bin’. I’m surprised when the film isn’t interrupted by adverts for Watney’s Red Barrel and the Woolworth’s sale.
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
10.58am The crowning glory of the saga, ‘Empire’ is one of my very favourite movies, a go-to retreat in times of illness and/or extreme hangover. For Phil, it’s thrilling for an entirely different reason. ‘F***ing hell, you didn’t tell me Cliff from “Cheers” was in it! Brilliant!’
11.51am ‘That’s Yoda, right?’ Yes. ‘Get in!’ We’ve landed on Dagobah to meet the mystic muppet, and by this point we’re both thoroughly entranced. There’s just time for a late brekkie: snake soup for the Jedi, toast and jam for us.
12.40pm I’ve learned that Phil doesn’t know who Luke’s dad will turn out to be. Sadly, I’ve made such a fuss about it that he’s figured it out on his own by the time Darth steps up for the big reveal. But we glide through to the finale in good spirits. ‘I’m really enjoying myself, actually,’ says Phil. ‘It’s cheesy but fun. I wonder why I didn’t want to see them when I was nine? I think I was just an unusual child.’
Return of the Jedi (1983)
1.36pm I’ve always known the opening act of ‘Return of the Jedi’ gave me a creepy feeling, but I’d never really analysed it before. ‘It’s a bit bloody pervy, this,’ observes Phil, as we watch a giant fleshy snake being throttled to death by a woman in a bikini, while outside people are thrown into a gaping anus filled with writhing penises.
1.49pm Phil is worried about Princess Leia, and with good reason. Freed from her bondage chains, she seems content to take a back seat to the guys’ heroics. ‘She’s been marginalised in an annoyingly patriarchal way,’ snaps Phil Harrison, space feminist. I explain that Leia’s downgrade was partly down to Hollywood chauvinism and partly down to Carrie Fisher’s galloping drug problem.
2.33pm ‘Oh cool, Lionel Richie’s got the good plane,’ grins Phil as Lando Calrissian pilots the Falcon into the final battle. I feel like he still hasn’t quite got the hang of things, but at least he’s enjoying himself. Dark clouds are gathering, however, and I think before long weesa gonna be in bombad trouble…
The Phantom Menace (1999)
3.09pm The fretting begins before the film’s even started. Looking at the DVD menu, Phil growls. ‘Oh, there’s a small child in this one, is there? That’s worrying.’ The film starts, and we both burst out laughing at Ewan MacGregor’s hair. It looks like he got it cut at the Womad festival. By Linda McCartney.
3.24pm The first appearance of Jar-Jar Binks comes as something of a shock. Even I’ve forgotten just how grating, out-of-place and faintly racist the gangly Gungan is. ‘Exqueeeeze me!’ giggles Jar-Jar. ‘Oh Christ, f*** off!’ roars Phil.
5.04pm Over the past two hours, the atmosphere in the room has turned decidedly sour. This is a tedious, sand-in-the-pants-irritating film filled with bad ideas – Midi-chlorians, virgin births, battle droids – and slappable characters, notably the excruciating Anakin. Still, the moral of the story rings true: annoying little brats grow up to be genocidal maniacs.
Attack of the Clones (2002)
5.25 We’ve been here for more than eight hours and Phil is starting to lose it. ‘Ewan MacGregor looks like David Brent now. Or David Bowie. Or both.’ I ask if he’s okay to keep going, and he nods weakly. ‘It’s all starting to blur into one,’ he admits. ‘I have no idea what’s going on, and I don’t really care.’
5.49pm This one was shot in Australia, so all the bit parts that used to be played by teachers from ‘Grange Hill’ are now filled by actors from Aussie soaps. There’s a great bit where Damian from ‘Home and Away’ tries to sell McGregor some ‘death sticks’. Clearly, he’s seen ‘Trainspotting’. I catch myself wondering whether they have heroin in space, and start to fear for my own sanity.
7.22pm It’s the big lightsaber battle, and we both sit up and pay attention when Yoda draws his weapon. ‘That’s actually pretty great,’ admits Phil, as the little green fella goes batshit on Christopher Lee. We may yet be able to pull things back from the brink.
Revenge of the Sith (2005)
7.40pm The end may be in sight, but morale is low as we plunge headlong into the final movie. ‘I feel slightly deranged,’ Phil tells me. ‘I keep telling myself my great-grandad worked down a pit, so I really shouldn’t complain.’
9.29pm ‘Is that, like, a river of fire?’ Yep. ‘Cool.’ I’d actually forgotten how good this movie is – it really doesn’t deserve the stick the other prequels get. We both rally for the rousing finale, in which Anakin and Obi-Wan go head-to-head in an absolutely cracking lightsaber duel.
9.47pm As the credits roll for the final time, I ask Phil how he feels about the whole experience. ‘I enjoyed it,’ he admits, almost sheepishly. ‘I think that once I’d acclimatised to the general horror of my situation, Stockholm Syndrome kicked in. There are so many clichés, but I realise now that they invented all the clichés.’ I smile benevolently, knowing I’ve managed to bring a little light – a little joy – into someone’s life. ‘That said,’ he adds as an afterthought, ‘“The Phantom Menace” is the worst movie I’ve ever f***ing seen.’