It was a bewildering 38 years ago that I sat in Tottenham Court Road Odeon cinema and saw the very first Star Wars. It was 1977 and I was a mere 7 years of age. My London-dwelling Granny had offered to pay for us all to go, all 6 of us. “Shockingly noisy!” she bemoaned loudly in her cut-glass accent as we left. My mum still laughs about that. I don’t remember what I thought except that it was the biggest cinema I’d been to up until then.
And so today, we took our youngest 9 year old son to see the much anticipated latest Star Wars film. My eldest daughter, with sensibilities like mine, wisely chose to wait to watch it when it comes out on DVD in case it was scary – its easier to block it out when its less all pervading. I may have found it ok aged 7, but cinema stereo systems are far louder these days and screens far bigger. All the better in my son’s estimation, for whom no film seems to hold anything scary but “AWESOME!”
I decided to join husband and son on this Boxing Day excursion largely out of sheer curiosity as to what all the hype was about. I’m not an action/sci-fi/battle scene film type in the slightest but I’d read that it was as good if not better than those first 3 films. Not having watched that first film again since that first showing a whole shocking 38 years ago (!!!), I went wondering if I’d remember any of the story line. My husband lamented to my son in the car on the way that “She’ll be hissing at me all the way through asking “Who’s that?“!!! Hrumph. I resolved NOT to do that. But then my son exclaimed “Yes, and she’ll be like a clutch bag – clutching on to you or me in terror throughout!!” The cheek! But I know he’s right….
And what a blast it was. It superseded anything I’d expected on several fronts.
First, it was a total treat to watch a film where characters I’d not seen for 30 years re-appeared as their 30 year older selves. I felt like clapping when Hans Solo & Chewbacca, C-3P0 or R2-D2 appeared, it was like seeing old friends! Being in a British cinema as I was, that was so not going to happen; I’d need to watch it in the States for that 😉 Harrison Ford as Hans Solo was by far the star of the show for me, his sardonic yet loveable wit made all the more enjoyable by the fact that I’ve lived life a little like him too and so could appreciate the joke. The mature Princess Leia all grown up, wise and crow-lined was actually a comfort – she was older yes, but she was comfortable with herself, even with her roguish old flame Hans who’d clearly run a few circles round her in her time, and with others who she didn’t appear to dominate but lead with authority. She was clearly kind too. No Thatcher her.
Second, I’d forgotten how funny it was. No full-on sci-fi, action films these days have anything like the humour that Star Wars has (correct me if I’m wrong). Most of it probably goes over young heads although my son was chuckling a plenty throughout, but to the older ones of us lines like “Women will always sniff out the truth. Always” spoken knowingly by Hans Solo will no doubt create light-hearted chuckles and glances exchanged between partners as it did us.
Third, and this took me by surprise, at last, at last, we had a heroine in Rey who was strong but who did NOT run the men down around her or beat them up (ok, she killed more than her fair share but they were the baddies and it didn’t have a feeling of ‘girl kicks boy’s ass’ type of thing; it was the baddies ass that was the point. I have become increasingly disappointed at the litany of films in the past decade that have given kids the message that not only are women are more powerful than men but that the men are weak and lily-livered. In short, they are characters who don’t deserve a woman’s respect. Think Tangled, Brave, Mirror Mirror, Friends (ok, we’re going back a bit further there) even the modern Charlie’s Angels in which the Angels are far more violent than the sixties version. None of the women in these films are women who I’d consider good role models for my daughter. Yes, they stand up to patrimony, sexism and unspoken assumptions about what women can and can’t do. Great. But they do it at the expense of the men. Not so Princess Leia or Rey. They are what I call true feminists. We’ll never have a strong, balanced society if the women are raised up at the expense of men who will, in time, feel even more disenfranchised and emasculated than they do already. This is not sustainable nor right in my view.
And it wasn’t just modern gender stereotypes that were challenged. Men and women of all races and types were represented in this film. The scene where the Resistance were gathered around the planning ‘table’ had men and, ok only one woman, from various cultures and creatures ;-). You got the sense that they were all making decisions together, each one pitching in the knowledge and skill they had. The fact that the two new lead roles were given to relative newcomers, one a black British male, the other a British female (who had strong overtones of Keira Kneightley with a dose of Lily James thrown in) backed up the sense that the way this film was made was deliberately less baying to the usual Hollywood model, at least in substance if not style.
I’d read somewhere on social media this week that the director had deliberately given women a greater role, a greater presence, and it showed.
Lastly, I enjoyed the way the villain was not ‘black and white’ bad. He was clearly torn by an inner humanity, an innate goodness, that warred against his soul and caused him to self-flagellate in tormentedness. This was a man who’d been trained in dark villainy from a tender age but who had the power to make a choice for good or evil. I was genuinely cripped (and cripping my poor husband) at one particularly scene, not knowing which way he’d chose.
In case you think I’m over sentimentalising or reading too much into it, let me tell you that it was simply pure fun to watch, holding all the core ingredients of cinematic brilliance – big bold panoramas, improbable fight scenes, good winning over evil, treachery and love, comedy and likeable characters.
Go for the sheer fun of it!