Showing posts with label THE YEAR OF WAITING FOR STAR WARS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label THE YEAR OF WAITING FOR STAR WARS. Show all posts

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How to Break a Franchise


Princess Leia and Sana Starros take take Dr Aphra to the Rebel Prison Planet. A mysterious third party breaks into the prison, and begins executing the prisoners. Then, the power cuts out, the cells open, and Leia is trapped in the dark with  a mob of cold blood imperial murderers.

When Marvel's new Star Wars title launched last year, it felt impressively like a comic book adaptation of a lost 1979 movie, albeit with material from the sequels and prequels folded into it. So deftly and tactfully was this handled that it smoothed over some of the cracks in the Star Wars Saga; almost convincing us that the Episode IV Darth Vader really was still the Episode III Anakin Skywalker underneath. Issue #15, (an excerpt from Obi-Wan's lost journal) was both a shameless exercise in faux nostalgia and also a cunning synthesis of the old and new movies. A young kid called Luke shoots womp-rats near Beggars Canyon watched over by a figure who is older than Ewan McGregor but younger than Alec Guinness. It was the most enjoyable Star Wars Thing in years. 

But there is a growing sense that, now Luke has read Ben’s diary, and now that Darth Vader knows who destroyed the Death Star, writer Jason Aaron has filled in the space between Episode IV and Episode V and been reduced to making stuff up. And the more stuff gets made up, the further away from Star Wars we move, until, in issue 50, 60, 70 we'll realize that, even though the main character is based on reference photos of a very young Mark Hamill, what we are reading a generic space opera comic unconnected with any movie and Uncle Walt declares the whole thing non-canonical. 

I remember reading the first issue of Ultimate Spider-Man when it came out and loving it like I hadn't loved any comic in a decade. Everything that was ever fun and good about Spider-Man, re-imagined in a millennial setting. I forget how many issues it took before Peter Parker was being hassled by Nick Fury and dating Kitty Pryde and meeting up with his father’s old colleagues and dying heroically and being replaced by a much younger kid. Nothing against the comic: stuff had happened. Stuff had to happen. But the more stuff happened the more obvious it became that we were no longer re-imagining Spider-Man but, reading about a completely different character with a similar costume.

Sana Starrors and Dr Aphra? Who the hell are they? (*) And what the hell is the Rebel Alliance doing with a Prison Planet?

The new Rebel Prison arc (beginning Star Wars #16) is perfectly logical. The Rebellion, as depicted in the movies, is something way beyond being a guerrilla force or a bunch of terrorists. It has medals and insignia and battleships; I seem to think that the role-playing game described it as having its own currency. It's the remains of the Old Republic; the other side in a pretty substantial civil war. So of course it must take prisoners. And if it takes prisoners it must have a prison, unless it executes them on the spot, which is what rebels would do in a civil war but not what goodies ought to do in an heroic space opera. And if there is a Rebel Prison, then the prisoners must be very scary indeed, and there must be lots of people who would like to free them and lots of people who would like to kill them.

Perfectly logical. But if you are going to apply perfect logic to Star Wars you might as well go home. 

Jason Aaron has a pretty good handle on the character's voices and Princess Leia still sounds a bit like Princess Leia. But she is forced to have conversations that are just not the kinds of conversations that Princess Leia ought to be having. 

— I won’t let you do this, I won’t let you gun them all down.

— I know you won’t because you still believe you’re fighting a noble fight, don’t you. But there’s nothing noble about war, princess. Not if you want to win.

—I’m not going to debate you. I’m just going to stop you. You’re not killing anyone else.

—You’re right. You are. I’ve just released 17 cold blooded murderers from their cells, Princess. Perhaps you can have that debate with them. Though if you’d rather live, I suggest you get busy killing them. 

Princess Leia, the Princess Leia who called Chewie a Walking Carpet and was only a little bit sad when her planet blew up is just not big enough or real enough to be having Socratic dialogues about ethics. She doesn't become more real by debating with Hannibal Lecter, any more than Penelope Pitstop becomes more real by carrying a huge great phallic gone. She just becomes less like Princess Leia. To even ask the question "is war ever noble" is to abolish the franchise called Star Wars. 

Okay then, clever clogs: what would you have done if you were writing Star Wars and were forced to address the question of what the Rebels do with baddies they capture?

I would have imagined something shiny and wonderful. One of the races in the Alliance is a telepathic mind parasite that subsists by sucking the evil out of other life forms. Someone knows an Old Jedi Trick of gently turning people back to the Light. The same medical science that can graft new limbs onto wounded heroes can also teach bad people to be good. There is a beautiful, paradise like planet many millions of light years away where bad people are sent to live more or less contented lives until they can no longer harm society.

But actually, I would say "This is not the sort of question you ought to ask about Star Wars, any more than you should ask if Luke killed the civilian crew of the Death Star or how Biggs joined the Rebellion quite so quickly. It’s just not that sort of story."


Three elderly Clone Troopers are holding out on a cobbled together Old Republic Walker. Two Imperial AT-ATs are bearing down on them. They know that they have no chance, but mean to go down fighting. They attempt to ram one of the AT-ATs legs. Suddenly, with a literal fanfare, a Rebel spaceship zooms in. It loops over the top of one of the Walkers, and three people jump onto the roof of the cockpit. Two of them, a man and a boy, cut a hole with their lightsabers; the third, a bad tempered alien, jumps through it and bangs the heads of the two pilots together. The rebels commandeer the AT-AT and immediately start shooting at the other one. 

In one sense, it’s the total lack of ambition which makes Star Wars: Rebels the one iteration of Star Wars that honestly recaptures the spirit of '77. Clone Wars always felt too big and self-important. It was not only the story of a major galactic war; it was an attempt to justify the existence of the prequels: to convince us that galactic politics and swashbuckling could go together; to redeem Anakin’s character from what Hayden Christensen did to it. Rebels doesn't pretend to be about anything other than five incredibly generic characters running errands for the Rebellion. Episodes sometimes seems to have been created via a Random Mission Generator from the Star Wars role-playing game. “We need you to fly to the Planet Such-and-Such and deliver supplies / pick up supplies / make contact with Rebel agents there." One episode is lifted directly from a West End adventure module. 

So all that matters is that everyone should be having fun; that every plan should be more complicated than it needs to be; that every battle should involve a silly stunt; that no character can ever face certain death without a wise-crack and smart remark. And in almost every episode, Rebels triumphantly delivers on this modest objective.

Why didn't they shoot at the AT-AT with the ship's cannon? Because that would have been no fun. 

Why did Zeb bash the troopers' heads together rather than punch them?  Because it’s more fun that way.

Can lightsabers really slice through armour like butter, even armour that's impervious to heavy gunfire? No, not all the time. Only when it's fun. 

In the final episode of Season I, our heroes end up flying a captured imperial TIE-fighter, which Hera, the resident graffiti artist has resprayed with a psychedelic, floral pattern. How do they get away with it? Player-character immunity and an awful lot of Force Points.

Even now the Extended Universe has been purged, Star Wars is a strange, four dimensional text, and that temporal depth makes Star Wars: Rebels something more than the thrilling adventures of Kid Jedi. The cartoon takes place 14 years after Revenge of the Sith, and five years before A New Hope. So the prequels are something which the older characters can look back on; but the original trilogy is something which hasn't happened yet. Every time Princess Leia or Moff Tarkin or, yes, the big guy with the black cape and the breathing problem come on stage we fans look back to Star Wars but the heroes look forward to adventures yet to come. Kanan, the aging not-quite Jedi, remembers the massacre of the Jedi Knights from Attack of the Clones: 14 years ago, from his point of view; 11 from ours. Princess Leia looks much as she did in Episode IV, which is 40 years ago from our point of view, but still in our hero's future. And most interestingly, in series 2, running the Rebellion is none other than Ahsoka Tano.

Who the hell is Ahsoka Tano? If you missed out on Clone Wars, then you won't know that Anakin had an apprentice: at first, as reckless and irresponsible as he was; but by the end, a wise and noble warrior. She walked out of the Jedi Order in the final series of Clone Wars in 2012, which is to say, 18 years ago. 

Whoah, Andrew. A minute ago you were complaining that the Star Wars comic was focusing on characters who were never in the movies. Now you are excited because an older version of a character from one cartoon series has turned up in a different cartoon series?

Yeah. It's a matter of how you do it, I suppose. I had a hundred a twenty episodes in which to get used to Ahsoka; and it helps that the cartoon series offered a more convincing picture of the Clone Wars than either of the movies that referenced them. And I am more inclined to buy into Ahsoka's presence in Rebels, because a confrontation between "the Sith Lord" and his former apprentice is an intrinsically interesting set up; just the kind of thing that ought to be happening in Star Wars. We've never seen someone who knew and liked Anakin Skywalker confronting him as Darth Vader before. (When Obi-Wan confronted Darth Vader, Anakin Skwalker didn't exist; not in that sense.)
The little boy from Episode I who is addressed as "grandfather" in Episode VII; the young, comic relief character ("Snips") in on cartoon who is also the mature, tragic leader in another; characters who look back on previous movies as parts of of their youth or as parts of a past known only from folklore...

It would be silly and over the top to say that Star Wars is about time and memory; Remembrance of Things Past considered as a weekly cartoon strip. But remind me: what are the first words of the caption that appears at the beginning of ever Star Wars movie? 


The Binary Suns motif taps out on a tinkly instrument: a piano or a harpsichord or some such. The same only different. 

We are following someone into the Rebel Base; walking behind her. 

(The Rebel Base on Yavin; the actual Rebel Base on Yavin, with all the technicians and X-Wings and droids Is Biggs there, for example? I bet he is, even if we can't see him.)

The back view of a character is familiar to anyone who has ever played a third person computer game. "Identify with this character" it says "She will have a little bit of individuality, but she's basically just your avatar in the virtual world." 

Note also the lens flare. Computer games love lens flare even though no actual lenses are harmed during the making of computer games. Lens flare says “documentary”. It says "this isn’t a thing we made, this is a thing being shot, by some camera man embedded with the Rebel Alliance".

She is Jyn. She is a woman. She seems to be in handcuffs. The voice over must be an Imperial Officer reading out a charge sheet. She must be some kind of criminal who the Rebels have rescued. 

There is a flashback. Another market. Another heroine. Another hood. She is shooting Stormtroopers. Stormtroopers used to fall over politely when they were shot. Now they are propelled across the landscape. 

There is stuff which everyone can see; everyone who has ever been to the movies; everyone who has ever been inside a toyshop. X-Wings; the Death Star; Stormtroopers; Walkers. They are what tell us that this is Star Wars. You could make a movie about someone going to the shops to buy some potatoes and if there were Stormtroopers, Walkers, Death Stars and X-Wings you would still know it was Star Wars. 

And then there is stuff which only the fans can see. Not so much a dog whistle as a little pat on the head. The person talking to Jyn is Mon Mothma. Mon Mothma is the leader of the Rebellion. She appeared for a few seconds during Return of the Jedi and even fewer seconds during Revenge of the Sith. And now she is talking to a lady called Jyn in the actual secret rebel base on Yavin from Star Wars. Good fan. Have a treat.

We always knew that the Death Star was the sort of thing you could mistake for a small moon; but the beauty shot of the small-tiny Star Destroyers passing in front of it… It sort of sums up the ever escalating scale that Star Wars was about but never quite had the special effects for.

The Death Star. The actual Death Star. The Death Star from Star Wars, only awesome. 

The very first thing we knew about Star Wars was that Rebel Spies had managed to steal plans to Death Star in capital letters, and that they did this while Rebel Spaceships were winning their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire, also in capital letters. That was all we knew about the Galaxy, and all we needed to know. 

Someone stole the plans and gave the to Leia, who gave them to R2D2, who gave them to Luke, who gave them to that guy with the beard at the end of Star Wars. Is there any reason at all why it shouldn't be a lady called Jyn? Revenge of the Sith ended with C3P0 and R2D2 on the Ship from scene one of Star Wars, which is to say, the Rebel Blockade Runner, which is to say the Tantive IV. Is there any reason why Rogue One should not end with Jyn handing the Plans of the Death Star to Princess Leia? 

How much back-story be piled onto one film before it breaks? Robin Hood can always play another trick on another fat monk. Ishmael can never be seen to go on another whaling voyage?

We do not know, at this stage, if Jyn is the hero of the movie; or merely the one that the first trailer has decided to focus on. At least four other characters appear in the montage: 

White Guy With Mustache. 
Asian Guy With Stick. 
Bald Black Guy.
Guy With Beard and Plaits.

Trailers have a structure as fixed and invariable as the Journey of the Hero itself. No longer is there a booming voice saying “It was a TIME of heroes” or “Never before in the history of motion pictures..."
Instead, you get clips of dialogue playing over one or two scenes from the film: enough to tell you a tiny fragment of the story. And then, quickly, and totally without context, a montage of other characters and scenes, and another bit of dialogue which sums up what the story is About. Unfortunately, the story is never About “dinosaurs” or “gangsters” or “huge great space stations the size of a planet”. The story is always About family, or love, or how one man must choose. 

It seems that Bald Black Guy is Jyn’s mentor. He is the one who gets to announce what the film is About. 

"What. Will. You. Do. If they catch you. Whatwillyoudoiftheybreakyou? If you continue to fight. What will you. Become!” 

That’s the important question. What will you. Become? How will delivering the plans to Princess Leia affect you personally.``

Tell us, Jyn, tell us, about the personal journey you’ve been on.

It was been widely reported that Star Wars fans were unhappy that the protagonist of Rogue One is a lady. 

This is not true. 

Anyone who noticed the sex and/or gender of the main character was by definition not a Star Wars fan. The only possible reaction a Star Wars fan could possibly have had to the trailer was "bloody hell it's the actual Death Star and it's huge" with a possible side order of "AT-AT walkers! AT-AT walkers. I had one of those on my bedroom floor when I was a kid." The people who were unhappy about the protagonist being a lady are male supremacist nut jobs pretending to be Star Wars fans. They are cross about a lady having a big part in Star Wars because they are always cross about ladies having big parts in anything, on general principles.

The highest female representation in a Star Wars film to date was Episodes II and III in which 33% of the main characters are female. Rogue One seems broadly in line with the Original Trilogy and the Force Awakens, with four male characters to one female. No Star Wars movie has had more than one woman in a major heroic role. If one wanted to have a sensible discussion about gender balance, one would have to say “Boys feel intimidated if there is more than one girl in the team; the film makers can see that this is a problem and are trying to get round it by allowing the one permitted girl to be team captain."  (**)

When I saw Jyn, I did not think “Oh oh oh she is a lady there will never again be another movie with a male hero, I am undone,  its plickle kreckness gone mad.” 

But there was a small part of me which thought: “Oh oh oh she is an orphan loner who lives by her wits in alien markets and gets into trouble and breaks the rules and says ‘Yes Sir’ in a sarcastic voice. Which is quite close to Rey the orphan loner who lives by her wits in alien junk yards and Ezra the orphan loner who lives by his wits in alien markets, but quite a long way from Luke the restless young man who wants to go to the academy.”

That's the story that the trailer seems to be telling us. An unorthodox rebellious soldier, quite unsuited to the military. An old mentor, who has to teach her discipline, not realising that she is actually showing him that imagination and rule breaking isn’t such a bad thing after all. 

In short the plot of every war movie you’ve ever seen; ever Dirty Dozen movie; every Rogue Cop film. J.J Abrams even turned Star Trek into the story of an unorthodox, rebellious Captain entirely unsuited to any kind of military career. 

By all means, show us the rebels striking from their hidden fortress. By all means, show us the Death Star from an new angle and Walkers from the perspective of the troops on the ground. But please, don’t try to show us “the reality of war”. 

This will be a film, say director Gareth Edwards, in which "good guys are bad and bad guys are good". I could hardly come up with a more precise definition of what Star Wars is not. I’d honestly rather see the film about people buying potatoes.

(*) A former associate of Han Solo, and a rogue archaeologist who worked with Darth Vader in a different comic.


IV: Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben / Leia 20%
V and VI: Luke, Han, Chewie, Lando / Leia 20%
I: Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, Anakin / Amidala 25%
II and III: Obi-Wan, Anakin / Amidala 33%
VII: Poe, Finn, Han, Chewie / Rey 20%
Clone Wars: Anakin, Obi-Wan / Ahsoka 33%
Rebels: Kanaan, Ezra, Zeb / Hera, Sabine 40%

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting me on Patreon. If everyone who reads this pledged to give me $1 dollar each time I write an article (between £2.82 and £5.65 each month) it would make a real difference to my solvency. 

Alternatively, there may still be people who have not read my first Star Wars book...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Ten more quotes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens which would have been hugely improved by the addition of the word "pants"

"Those are my pants! No, keep them, they suit you."

"I know all about waiting. For my pants. They'll be back one day."

"Take off those pants! You don't need them."
"What do you think you'll see if I do?"

"You will remove these pants and leave this cell with the door open."
"I will tighten these pants, scavenger scum."

"You will drop your pants."
"I will drop my pants."

"The pants you seek are not behind you. They are ahead." 

"What about that ship?"
"That one's pants."
"The pants will do."

"What about those pants?"
"They're garbage."
"The garbage will do." 

"If you see our pants, bring them home."

"When you live long enough, you start to see the same pants on different people." 


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ten quotes from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens which would have been hugely improved by the addition of the word "pants"

"Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in my pants."

"Why are you helping me?"
"Because it's the right thing to do."
"You need pants?"
"I need pants."

"Luke Skywalker? I thought he was pants."

"Stop taking my pants!"

"Chewie, we're pants."

"The pants you seek are aboard the Millennuim Falcon, in the hands of my father."

"You changed your pants."
"Same jacket"
"New jacket!"

"You changed your hair."
"Same pants."
"New pants!"

"We'll see each other's pants. I believe that."

"It is I, C3P0. You probably do not recognize me because of the red pants."


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ten More Facts About the Star Wars Trilogy

1: Peter Cushing also played such iconic roles as Dr Frankenstien, Dr Who, and Sherlock Holmes!

2: George Lucas also directed the Indiana Jones trilogy, featuring Harrison "Han Solo" Ford as the iconic archaeologist!

3: Harrison Ford also takes the title role in the iconic 1982 cult sci fi classic Blade Runner!

4: In the first version of the script, "Star Wars" was going to be entitled "The Star Wars"!

5: Until very late in production, Luke Skywalker was going to be called "Luke Starkiller"!

6: The Force is an energy field create by all living things. It surrounds them, it penetrates them, it bind the galaxy together!

7: Darth Vader was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force!

8: The Jedi Knights were the Guardians of Truth and Justice in the Old Republic for over a thousand generations!

9: Princess Leia turns out to be Luke Skywalker's twin sister!

10: The word "iconic" refers to a style of religious artwork in Greek Orthodox churches, and should not be used as a synonym for "famous"!


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from


Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Force Awakens I -VII







If you have enjoyed these articles, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. This means pledging to give him a small amount of money, typically $1 (0.69 English pounds) each time he writes a substantive piece. 

He is currently earning approximately £44 per article; NUJ rates are around £250/1000 words for a small magazine. 

Did you like the Force Awakens, or didn't you?


Chewie: we're home.

Very early on the morning of December 16th, I said “The Force Awakens was as good as it could possibly have been”.

Having now seen the film, er, five times, I think I would say “It was far better than it needed to be.”

I remember the days when TV and movie adaptations of comic books had nothing to do with the source material, and you didn't really expect them to. The Hulk was a fugitive named Dave; Doctor Strange was a medical student; Spider-Man wore his webshooters outside his sleeves. Even the Tim Burton Batman, which was fan-approved and kicked the whole thing off, had us struggling to find the things which resembled the comic book. (Even Reeves Superman. Krypton made of sugar. Elderly Jor-El. Hairy Lex Luther. No Superboy.) But at some point, somewhere around the X-Men, I suppose, someone realized that hey, these comic books are actually quite good; and hey, the kinds of people who read comic books go to movies; so hey, let’s make a Captain America movie that actually, like, follows the plot of Captain America! Let’s make a Guardians of the Galaxy movie and reference the Celestials and Howard the Frickin’ Duck! Let's make geek movies for geeks!

As has been noted, Mr Walt “Uncle” Disney spent 2.75 billion pounds buying the rights to Star Wars. And while a movie like Force Awakens makes a tidy little sum in a tickets and popcorn sales, the real, ongoing money is in computer games and action figures and breakfast cereal and lunchboxes and lightsaber shaped water bottles and duvet covers and t-shirts and lots and lots of underwear. People were going to go and see the Force Awakens whether it was critically acclaimed or not. The main thing to do was not damage the brand. (Marvel and Star Wars and Star Trek and Doctor Who are called "franchises" nowadays, a word which originally had to do with secret recipes for fried chicken.) The easy thing to do would have been to just show us all the toys and not knock over too much of the furniture. Disney would have made it's money back out of any film in which a wookie and a walker said may the Force be with you to a lightsaber. But Disney placed Star Wars in the hands of a man who actually liked Star Wars (however much he may have disliked Star Trek); and he shows every sign of having put together the kind of film he would have liked to have seen. He didn't go for all the obvious fan-pleasing effects; he held some of the cool stuff back til literally the last moment; he killed off good guys; he left us wondering what was going to happen next and wanting more. This was a far, far better film than it needed to be. 

The Force Awakens was a film I felt comfortable with. It was not, in truth, a film that thrilled me or filled me with joy. But as you get older, that happens less and less, which is why we start listening to folksingers. The main thing which was missing, I am afraid to say, was George Lucas. Lucas brought a mad inventiveness to the table; a sense of excess. Yes, someone sometimes needed to take him aside and say “George, George, are you absolutely sure about the Jamaican fish people?” Star Wars had iconic X-Wings and TIE Fighters and The Empire Strikes Back had almost equally iconic Walkers and the Return of the Jedi had, er, loads of cool stuff as well and the prequels, bless them, and gold pointy naboo fighters and funny round Jedi fighters and robots that curled up into wheels like roley poley bugs... The Force Awakens offered us, I think I am correct in saying, not one single cool new piece of hardware: X-Wings and TIE Fighters with slightly different liveries; a lightsaber with a cross bar; an even bigger and more deathier Death Star.

But on the plus side, there was no sense of anyone going through the motions, quoting famous lines, referencing famous scenes for the fans to tick off on their scorecards. Carrie Fisher made very little attempt to re-do her turn as Princess Leia from the first movie. We entirely believed in Han and the General as a middle-aged couple for whom things hadn’t quite worked out. I have known ever since the Ewoks started their song that when I next saw Luke Skywalker he would be a wise old man with a wise old beard and wise old robes, so there could be no better image for the film to end on.

Star Wars is an ongoing, generational space-fantasy saga, created by George Lucas and others. 

It is set during and after the fall of a great Galactic Republic; like the Arthurian saga, it’s about holding on to what you can of civilization as night falls. The cyclical conflict between Light and Darkness is represented by a single family. The first trilogy deals with the messianic Anakin Skywalker; the second with his son Luke Skywalker and the third with his grandchildren Ben and Rey Solo.

In it’s original form, the fourth chapter was intended to be a stand alone work, and therefore does not fit entirely satisfactorily into the saga; although George Lucas engaged in an on-going editorial process to rework the films into a single “fix-up” saga. It was painfully possible to see the narrative crack between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope; but when the saga resumed in 2015, fans were relieved that there was no such disjuncture between Episode VI: Return of the Jedi and Episode VII: The Force Awakens. 

At a micro level, the details of the generational trilogy may not have been what creator George Lucas originally envisaged; but we can be pretty certain that at a macrocosmic level, the saga was running roughly according to his intentions. Episode VII takes us into the third generation of characters; just as the heroes of episodes IV - VI were the children of the heroes of episodes I - III, so the Force Awakens introduces us to those characters grandchildren. A new political force, with a new technological terror, threatens the New Republic. The mystical guardians of peace and justice are once again riven by a schism between Darkness and Light. Unlikely heroes and heroines must take up their parents and grandparents swords to fight the coming darkness with their backs to the walls. This is the story that Lucas would have told; it is the story that Abrams is telling; and it is the story which will doubtless continue into the third decade of the new millennium when and elderly Rey Solo will doubtless witness her own children being tempted by the Dark Side of the Force. 

The saga begins with two Jedi Knights being sent to deal with an apparently trivial trade dispute which turns out * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


If you want me to carry on writing, either buy my book...

Monday, February 08, 2016

Why Star Wars bad guys ain't as good as they used to be


If you have a problem, said the Judo instructor on the programme, such as for instance a nineteen stone Jap in pyjamas trying to beat you into a pulp, the trick is to use the problem to solve itself. If you can trip or throw or deflect the Jap as he hurtles towards you, then the fact that he weighs nineteen stones quickly becomes his problem instead of yours.
           Douglas Adams

Finn and Rey, and even Han treat life and death as a game and revel in the playing of it. But there is a sense in which the First Order also seem to be playing at being bad guys.

Many people felt that the unmasking of Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi failed: there needed to be something more shocking, less pathetic, under the helmet. Nearly everybody felt that Hayden Christensen failed to convince as the young Anakin Skywalker in the prequels. He was neither evil enough to be Darth Vader, nor impressive enough to be the great hero and friend of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Clones Wars cartoon handles him better: he’s the cynical, rule-breaking, wise-cracking Jedi. But a plot arc in which a likable cynical good guy turns evil is not really very satisfying. Likable cynical good guys are meant to reveal that they have hearts of pure gold.

In retrospect, Lucas was much closer to the mark when he cast Jake Lloyd as child Vader in Phantom Menace. If no-one without a helmet and voice-over can possibly be Vader, better make young Anakin the least Darth Vader like figure possible: cute, naive, starry-eyed, kind. Star Wars is never far from the influence of Jack Kirby, and Kirby put a character who looked angelic but was actually demonic in virtually every series he wrote: Orion, the Reject, Angel, even Victor Von Doom. Instead of a moody teenager, Anakin needed to be Sir Galahad: noble, gentle, pious, holy, beautiful. Then his descent to the Dark Side could have literally been like the fall of Lucifer.

Darth Vader is a different character in each of the original trilogy: henchman in Star Wars, pantomime villain and bogeyman in Empire Strikes Back and a tragic hero in Return of the Jedi. But he is never less than charismatic; his every line an instant quotation, demanding to be written in capital letters like Death himself. I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING! HE IS AS CLUMSY AS HE IS STUPID! THE EMPEROR IS NOT AS FORGIVING AS I AM! Probably James Earl Jones would sound impressively evil if he were reading out a recipe for vegetable soup.

There is no iconic villain in the prequels. How could there be? Palpatine sneers. Christopher Lee is Christopher Lee. Darth Maul looks impressive on duvet covers and underwear.

Episode VII knows that no villain it introduces can possibly have a tenth of the impact of Darth Vader. So what does it do? Following Douglas Adams advise, it makes that part of the story. It creates a villain who knows he is a pale imitation of the previous one. A villain who has to keep proving to everyone else that he is evil: losing his temper and breaking things when his plans fail; killing people he has no particular reason to kill to show he can. Actually holding onto Darth Vader’s helmet – presumably retrieved from the funeral pyre on Endor – as a holy relic, and praying to it. Feeling that he is being tempted by the Light Side of the Force.

"Show me again the power of Darkness. Show me again, Grandfather, and I will finish what you started."


The theology of the Force is, naturally, a little vague. The very first time it is mentioned (in A New Hope) is when we are told that Vader was seduced by the dark side of the Force. ("Seduced": interesting choice of words, coming from an order which enforces vows of celibacy.) Sometimes, it seems that the Dark Side and the Light differ in their approach ("a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack"). Sometimes, the difference is just that the Dark Side use the Force for evil and the Light for Good. Sometimes, the opposite seems to be true: it isn’t that bad people use the Dark Side, it is that if you use the Dark Side, it will make you bad. Sometimes, there seem to be two different traditions: the Sith are custodians of secrets and techniques which the Jedi know nothing about. Leia says that Snoke – the Supreme Leader – seduced (that word again) Kylo Ren to the Dark Side. After he has been all but defeated by Rey and Finn, Snoke says that it is time to “complete his training”. But I have an overwhelming sense that Kylo is feeling his way: that he wants to be a super-villain like Grandpa but doesn’t quite know what he is doing.

There seems also to be a Tao idea that the Light and the Dark sides of the Force need to be balanced. Qui-Gon believed that Anakin Skywalker was the one who would bring balance. Tekka says that without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force. Han Solo defines the Force as "a magical energy holding together good and evil". This is one of the ways in which VII acknowledges the prequels without having a guest appearance by Jar-Jar Binks: the idea of "balance" occurs nowhere in the first trilogy.

Anger and fear are paths to the Dark Side. Kylo Renn fears that he will never be such an iconic villain as Darth Vader, and is angry when one of his minions fail him. When people failed Vader, he strangled them, with his fist or with the Force, but in a calm and controlled way. When the Millennium Falcon escapes at the end of Empire Strikes Back, he simply walks away. When Kylo Ren sees that Rey has escaped, he goes berserk and starts smashing things with his lightsaber. (Two stormtroopers simply turn around and leave him to it. They are obviously used to him throwing wobblies.) But it feels like someone showing off: going through the motions of being angry to prove a point, like someone smashing a tea-cup in a domestic row. As if he doesn’t really mean it.

When Luke says that there is still good in Darth Vader, no-one believes him. When Leia tells Han that there is still good in their son and he must try and bring him back, we take it as a definite possibility. He clearly isn't very good at being evil.

All the officers of the First Order are young. If the First Order only arose after Luke disappeared, and Luke disappeared because of the rise of Kylo Ren, then the First Order can hardly have been in existence for more than fifteen years. (Quite quick work in converting a planet into a hyperspace planet destroying cannon, even so.) But there seem to be no old generals in their 50s who remember the great days of the Empire.

General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) seems positively amateurish. His bickering with Ren somewhat recalls Motti's quarreling with Vader in the first film. But he doesn't seem to have properly got the hang of being evil. His ranting speech before they wipe out the Republic looks like someone doing a very bad imitation of Hitler: more Roderick Spode than Oswald Mosley. Look at the way the stormtroopers salute him. The Empire never went in for this kind of thing (if anything, it was the rebels who liked Triumph of the Will style ceremonials). And look, for goodness sake, at the chief Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christiie), with her silver armour and bright red cloak. These are people who love playing soldiers; people who became Nazis because they liked the uniforms.

Alan Moore, thinking about Jack the Ripper and the mythology of serial killers, remembers that when he was a small child, he experienced an intrusive thought about stabbing his mother with a knife; simultaneously knowing that it would be easy to do; and that he would never do such a thing. The serial killer, he speculates, is the person who has both imagined and done the impossible thing; and that gives them a certain kind of power because they have crossed a line. He thinks it would be like perceiving the script for your life, and abandoning it. Allowing yourself to be seduced by the dark side of the Plot.

Kylo Renn kills his father. He doesn't kill his father for any reason. He doesn't appear to hate him. He may even love him. He falters for a moment; tempted, as he would see it, by the light. The sky literally turning dark seems to push him back to the Dark Side. He's doing something pointlessly evil; because he wants to step over a line and never go back.

And when he pulls of his helmet: well, it’s a surprise, certainly, but it’s not a shock. Young; floppy haired; rather good looking; weak. Like the Anakin of the prequels. The anti-Luke.

The Pope complained that the villains in the Force Awakens were not evil enough. That's sort of true; but it's also sort of the point. Darth Vader is a fallen angel, with all the evil and charm and charisma that implies. George Lucas was a true artist, and presumably therefore of Darth Vader's party without realizing it. Kylo Ren is not the Dark Lord: he is a very naughty boy.

"General Kenobi: years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars: now he begs you to come to his aid again." 

Star Wars reached back into previous episodes, previous movies previous chapters — even in the good years when it was the only one. We didn't need to have seen Ewan McGregor totally failing to either look or sound like Alec Guinness to understand that Ben-Obi-Wan-Kenobi is the hero of a previous film which just happens not to exist. The Force Awakens reaches back into episodes and movies and chapters which do exist. And Han Solo finds himself in the Obi-Wan role. He’s the hero of the last movie; he’s getting too old for this kind of thing he’s back for one last hurrah.

Perhaps his exit wasn’t a completely unexpected plot twist after all?

As soon as they get to the Death Star, Ben Kenobi knows that he has to face Darth Vader. There's no actual reason for the fight. Vader could have been standing between Ben and the shield generator; or he could have been blocking Ben's path back to the Falcon. But they seem to be fighting because they have to. Part of a personal quest: Jedi stuff that both Obi-Wan and Darth Vader acknowledge, but which the rest of us wouldn't understand.

In Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, facing Vader, in the cave and in real life, is part of Luke's spiritual progress; a thing he has to do to become a Jedi. This makes sense if Vader is a Jungian archetype. In order to become a Man, you have to confront and overcome the terrifying shadow of your father that haunts your dreams. It makes much less sense if he just a particularly nasty war criminal.

Maybe there is some rule which says that when the Light Side and the Dark Side meet, they must duel. Maybe they are fulfilling some promise they made, years ago, before Vader killed Luke's father. Maybe Obi-Wan is consciously seeking his own death. Because he knows that he needs to be at one with the Force before Luke will be able to destroy the Death Star? Because he has learned from his old master a discipline which enables him to maintain his consciousness after death? Because enlightenment involves confronting your shadow self and experiencing ego death?

Is it possible that Han Solo is seeking his own death?

Does he know that the moment he faces his son is the culmination of a redemption arc that began when he turned the Falcon around and covered Luke’s back on Yavin? Or is he just keeping a promise to Leia, knowing how it will end, but going through with it anyway. ("Not my idea of courage. More like… Suicide.")

Han Solo, the real Han Solo, the one who gunned down Greedo in cold blood and cracked a joke about it, did not believe in the Force. I used to wonder how that was possible. How could you not know the Jedi Worreel when they were acting in big numbers when you were a teenager. Chewbacca knew Yoda, didn't he? But the Republic extended across the whole galaxy. (There are maps of the Star Wars universe. It is clear that by galaxy we mean, well, galaxy.) So even if there were hundreds of Jedi, they were awfully thinly spread. Maybe they were more like Saints than Cardinals. Even if you believed in them, you would probably never meet one. If you'd never met one, well, it was pretty easy not to believe in them.

Yoda tells Obi Wan that there is another hope besides Luke. In Return of the Jedi, when we discover that Leia is also Vader's child. Luke thinks she has inherited some of Darth Vader's midichlorians, and that some day, she will understand how to use them. This is a catastrophic failure of Lucas's retrospective plotting: it’s impossible to imagine that the hotheaded politician that Leia has been established to be would undergo the sort of training Luke underwent…and anyway, wasn't Luke too old to begin the training? It’s much more believable that she’s General Leia, running the Resistance to the New Order.

But this makes me wonder…

On Starkiller base, Finn admits that he does not really know how to take the shield's down, but says that he will trust the Force. Han Solo looks shocked and says "That's not how the Force works."

What does Han Solo know about how the Force works?

"I used to wonder that myself” he says “Thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo-magical power holding together good, evil, the dark side and the light. Crazy thing is, it's true. The Force, the Jedi, all of it. It's all true."

And when he meets Rey, and recognizes her as his daughter, he takes her, not back to Leia and the resistance, but to Maz's tavern, where she has a mystical vision associated with Luke Skywalker's lightsaber.

It couldn't be, could it?

It couldn't be that while Leia never learned to use the Force Han Solo did?

And that there may be a familiar voice whispering in Rey’s ear in the next movie?

If you want me to carry on writing, either buy my book...

Sunday, February 07, 2016

10 facts about the Star Wars trilogy

1: The Force Awakens is the seventh film in the Star Wars series!

2: The other film in the series are The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, the Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi.

3: Although it is Episode 1 of the saga, the Phantom Menace actually came out 22 years after Star Wars!

4: Star Wars was created by George Lucas, The Force Awakens was written and directed by J.J Abrams!

5: Despite it's futuristic hardware, the Star Wars series happens a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away!

6: Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, was the hero of the first three movies!

7: Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker father, was the hero of second three movies!

8:  In Star Wars, Han Solo shoots a bounty hunter down in cold blood! Later releases of the film re-edit the scene so the bounty hunter goes for his gun first!

9: Christopher Lee, who plays Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, once played Count Dracula in a low budget British horror movie!

10: Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin in Star Wars, played Van Helsing in the same movie!


The most incredible article about the Star Wars trilogy you will ever read

How Hollywood got Star Wars wrong

What is Luke Skywalker's relationship to Rey? The true answer may surprise you. 

George and Joe and Jack and Bob (and Me) 

Available from


Andrew Rilstone writes more perceptively about Star Wars than just about anyone else alive
Echo Station 5-7

...the most intelligent and insightful articles ever on the Star Wars hexology....”
Mike Taylor of the best things I’ve read on the whole Star Wars phenomenon in the last 27 years...

For more than 30 years, fans have been waiting for the definitive guide to the monsters, vehicles and aliens in the Star Wars universe. Some of them may find that this collection of essays by passes the time while they carry on waiting.

Starting with the opening night of Phantom Menace, Andrew explains why the prequels aren't quite as bad as everyone say; wonder if sometimes a lightsaber is just a lightsaber; and tries to show why the Saga has become so important to so many people.

A very personal journey to the heart of the Star Wars saga, in the company of such luminaries as Joseph Campbell, Jack Kirby...and Bob Dylan?

Includes parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the seminal "Little Orphan Anakin", though not necessarily in that order

Available from


Friday, February 05, 2016

Rebel agents discover the First Order's ultimate weapon. You won't believe what happens next!


"A marvellous healthy innocence… Nothing unpleasant. People go bang-bang and other people fall over, but no horrors. No sleazy sex, in fact no sex at all. A wonderful freshness about it. Like fresh air... People are going to read too much into it."
       Alec Guinness on Star Wars.

Star Wars was fun. It never strayed into camp or self-parody; but there was always a sense that Han and Luke were big kids, having a great time. Bad stuff happened: planets got blown up, uncles and aunts got incinerated, princesses got tortured — but no-one really minded. Look at Leia greeting Luke in the detention cell: is this a woman who was subjected to torture a few minutes ago? Look at Luke greeting Han after the battle: is this a man whose best friend has just been blown up? Think of the garbage masher. Were you horrified at the idea that our heroes were almost certainly going to be crushed to death (or consumed by a garbage eating squid) or were you delighted that such a classic movie serial cliffhanger was being acted out on the big screen? And weren't even Han and Luke were enjoying themselves? "One thing's for sure; we're all going to be a lot thinner." I suppose soldiers do engage in gallows humour when they are seconds away from death, but surely not that kind of wise-cracking.

Furry first mates who tear people's arms off over chess games; quick kisses before swinging over chasms — utility belts containing ropes that are only of any use to you if you are planning to swing over a chasm, come to that; nervous little robots that scoot off down corridors when they see wookies. Everyone gives the impression that they are playing at being heroes and villains. This is one of the reasons why the Star Wars role-playing game was such a success.

The Empire Strikes Back is not fun. Goodies lose; death is final, and sad; friends betray you; trusted mentors lie to you; and being tortured really, really stings. Luke has his hand cut off, and Vader kills people to death, instead of just threatening to. Return of the Jedi fudges it: it seems to realize that Empire Strikes Back was altogether too dark, but instead of lightening up, it makes the main plot even heavier but counterbalances it with some comic relief. Ewoks. One of the things to be said in favour of Phantom Menace — I will repeat that: one of the things to be said in favour of Phantom Menace — is that what with Anakin winning the chariot race, and making friends with R2D2 and blundering into the front line of a battle; there is quite a bit of fun to be had even without that charming rascal Jar-Jar Binks. But Episodes II and III take us on a downward spiral of grimness.

"Let's play Star Wars! I'll be your forbidden love, and you can accidentally murder me."

"Ooo, ooo, can I be the little kids who get massacred!"

How could Lucas defend the silliness of Phantom Menace on the grounds that it was a children's movie, and then perpetrate the final half hour of Revenge of the Sith?

One of the very great strengths of the Force Awakens is that it puts that sense the fun back into Star Wars. It's by no means without dark moments — it starts with the massacre of a whole village by stormtroopers; and we distinguish Finn, the stormtrooper with a moral conscience from the others by virtue of the fact that he's got a bloody hand-print on his nice white helmet. Before long, apparent good guy Lor San Tekka has been killed and Poe Dameron is shouting "no, no not the mind probe!" But even these sequences have a great deal of joy about them. What better way for a story to start than with a hero meeting a mysterious contact in a tent and receiving a mysterious map? How right and proper for the mysterious contact to die right after handing over the macguffin!

Once Finn and Poe hook up, the fun really kicks in. They have just the kind of bravado and banter that a pair of player characters ought to have. (Template: Reformed Stormtrooper; Template: Brash Pilot.) And anyway, we're Star Wars fans. We're getting a feel of what it would be like to fly a TIE fighter. In Star Wars, the iconic fighters were little ships, the ones that came in packs and buzzed around like mosquitoes. And we scarcely ever got a look at the pilots. So of course the first set piece action sequence should be about a goody flying one of those little ships — and letting us see the cockpit, and the controls. Giving us all, in fact, a sense that we are inside the ship. Showing us, more than anything in the previous six movies, what it would feel like to be a pilot.

"I always wanted to fly one of these" says Poe. Life and death situation? Trying to save the Resistance? Could be killed at any moment?

Whee...this is fun!

If you wasted endless hours playing X-Wing on your first PC, and if you had a Brash Pilot with 8 dice Starship Piloting then you will understand that "Use the toggle on the left to switch between missiles, cannons and pulses; use the sight on the right to aim; the trigger is to fire" is the best line in any movie, ever.

Meanwhile, down on Jakku…

Rey is having a hard time; eating the Star Wars equivalent of pot-noodles; scavenging for metal; getting short changed by definitely not Jewish scrap dealer Unkar Plutt (Simon Pegg, not that you would know.) But after a brief and obligatory misunderstanding, Rey and Finn are having the time of their lives, running away from explosions, stealing broken down space ships and leading First Order TIE fighter into shipwrecks. 

Abrams is obviously very pleased that modern compositing technology allows us to see X-Wings and TIE fighters flying low over deserts and forests and seas and ice-flows where the old movies could really only show them against jet-black starscapes. It does look rather cool: but much of the Star Wars aesthetic involved ships whizzing across stars spangled backdrops. And it's less fun for X-Wings to be all-terrain vehicles. There should be X-Wings for fighting in space, snow-speeders for fighting in the snow, a new kind of half submarine half spaceship boat for fighting near the water — a cool new toy for each environment. (We don't even see any A-Wings and B-Wings and Y-Wings.) The Empire used to use totally impractical AT-ATs when attacking targets on land — the First Order just throws even more TIE fighters at them.

It would be untrue to say "so when Han Solo himself turns up, it is a surprise." But it would be fair to say that most of us weren't expect him to pop up at quite that moment. We are sufficiently engaged with Finn and Rey that he have temporarily forgotten that a class reunion of graduates from the original trilogy was precisely the thing we bought out ticket to see.  We knew Han was in it, but we weren't waiting for him.

But once Rey Solo has stolen the Millennium Falcon, the next thing which has to happen in the story is for Han and Chewie to come looking for it. This is the real explanation for the plot holes and coincidence that killjoys complain about. There could have been a caption which said "Rey and Finn traveled around the universe for some weeks, trying to find word of the location of the Resistance base…" and a map of the Star Wars galaxy with a wibbly line being drawn across it to show their route; and a cutaway to Han and Chewie hearing the rumour that the Millennium Falcon has been seen near Jakku and deciding to check it out… but that would have been boring. Han and Chewie showing up is the next thing that needs to happen in the Plot. So it's the next thing which happens, and damn common sense and logic.

So: Han and Chewie suddenly turn up; and are suddenly boarded by two different gangs of jabbas who Han owes money to. The ridiculous Mars Attacks B-movie creatures that Han is smuggling suddenly get loose and start eating people. Everyone continues to treat the whole thing as a brilliant game, even when Finn is about to be suddenly eaten alive by a carnivorous space octopus. No one is worried. We know that heroes don't get eaten by carnivorous space octopuses in the first reel. He knows it too. Whatever may be in store for old Mr Gandalf, I'll wager it isn't a wolf's belly. May the Plot be with you.

I grant that it would have been exhausting and vulgar if the film had tried to maintain this pitch for the whole two and half hours. We would have started to experience action-sequence fatigue, like we felt in the seventeenth or eighteenth hour of the battle of the five sodding armies. The tone changes noticeably when we arrive on…er…checks guide book…Takodana.

The Force Awakens is perhaps not overburdened with originality. I am happy, for the present purposes, to accept the theory that there is Only One Story. But Abrams seems committed to the idea that there is Only One Place, or at any rate, only about six places: the Desert Place, the Woody Place, the Snowy Place and the Wet Place — Tatooine, Endor, Hoth and Naboo (which also happen to be the most memorable locations on the planet Mongo.)

One of the good things about the prequel trilogy — I will say that again: one of the good things about the prequel trilogy — was the sheer range of silly and inventive settings that Lucas threw at us. Abrams seems only interested in revisiting settings we recognize from the old movies. If Rey's story was going to sort-of kind-of recapitulate Luke Skywalker's than maybe she should have been found living with her uncle and her aunt at the bottom of the ocean; or on the top of a mountain; or on a planet made entirely of cheese. But Abrams evidently feels that unless we start out with a long desert sequence we won't know it's Star Wars. 

So it is no particular surprise that Abrams should want to recapitulate the iconic saloon scene from Star Wars. And, it is no surprise, given 30 years of technology and thinking time, that the aliens in this cantina are far more imaginative and realistic than anything Lucas offered — doubtless each with a well-thought out back story that we'll have to buy the action figures and read the Visual Dictionary to find out about. It is no particular surprise that, somewhere in Abrams' iteration of the Star Wars universe there should be a wise-old-person who knows the Ways of the Force and can dispense cryptic plot-information in a strange dialect. And definitely no surprise that she is a diminutive CGI alien.

I was, however, quite surprised that Abrams chose to mash-up those two elements: to make this season's Yoda analogue the barkeeper in this season's saloon.

The Star Wars cantina (doo de dooby dooby doo, do, dooby do) is ordinary; just another rough place in a rough part of town. Luke lives in a world where meeting flatworms and walruses in a pub is only like bumping into a Chinese guy and a native American by the docks. Maybe doesn't happen every day, but nothing weird about it. But this tavern; this a place of power. There are holy relics in the basement. If anything, it's standing in for the Swampy Place. Rey's vision when she touches the lightsaber is the equivalent to Luke's vision at the Tree. It's a test.

One wonders, in fact, if Han knew exactly what he was doing when he brought Rey here. He says that Maz Kanata will help them get their droid home, something she shows absolutely no interest in doing. 

Abrams now lays his cards on the table. While the fun stuff with the octopus was going on the baddies have been engaged with the Dark Side of the Plot. Kylo Renn has done his big reveal: Han Solo is my father. We've met this movie's Emperor analogue, and discovered that he's constructing this movie's Death Star analogue.

The Starkiller base is the one really weak idea in the movie. Star Wars was about the Death Star. It was the centerpiece of the film. To all intents and purposes, the Death Star was the Empire. It may not have made total logical sense to imprison the Princess inside the Ultimate Weapon that she's stolen the plans for; or for the planet-buster to come complete with a detention block and conference suite; but it makes terrific dramatic sense for all the baddie scenes to happen in one place. It's the thing which holds the film together. 

Starkiller, on the other hand, seems tagged on as an afterthought, basically to give Dameron Poe something to do in the second half; and to give us an excuse to cut back and forth between Jedi Stuff and X-Wing Stuff. The scene in which the rebels sit round a conference table with a white board and brainstorm how to destroy the Ultimate Weapon is the one genuinely silly moment in the entire movie. It lampshades the problem that Star Wars baddies always seem to design their weapons with easily accessible self-destruct buttons too blatantly. It makes the audience say "I know this is fantasy, but puh-leaze..."

From Takodana onwards, we know where we are. Han and Leia did not live happily ever after: they had a son; he turned evil; they broke up. There is an Ultimate Weapon coming to kill everyone. It is Rey, not Finn, who Luke's lightsaber calls out to: she's the Jedi, the Force-person, the Hero of this trilogy. From then on, we're into the grim, dark, serious, mythical round of lightsaber confrontations on bridges and in forests, Son against Father, maybe Sister against possibly Brother, no final resolution, and the whole thing ending on a dying fall.

I don't know quite what it means for the Starkiller base to suck in a sun in order to power its hyperspace capable planet-buster rays. I don't know if it travels, Galactus-style, from solar system to solar system; eating stars and chucking their energy at planets that have annoyed it; or if somehow a side effect of a fantastically efficient solar energy converter is that it causes an artificial but temporary eclipse. I suspect Abrams doesn't know either. But it does make for a fantastically cool moment when Kylo Ren comes on stage in the final act and everything literally goes dark. (The very first scene in the movie is a stardestroyer eclipsing Jakku's sun.)

It's like we've squashed the happy go lucky victory of Star Wars and the grim sordid defeat of the Empire Strikes Back into one movie.

I like space knights and space dragons and duels and confrontations and no-Luke-I-am-your-father. I said that I thought the dominant genre of Star Wars itself was the Arthurian legend. Of course the new chapter should include desperate confrontations on bridges and terrible duels in dark forests, and awful tragedies. And of course, one of the veterans from the last trilogy needs to die on Starkiller, just like Obi-Wan died on the Death Star.

But oh, I do wish The Force Awakens could have stayed funner for longer.

If you want me to carry on writing, either buy my book...