Empire’s 30th Anniversary – The One That Got Away: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

For our 30th Anniversary Special Edition issue, we picked the 30 films from the last 30 years that have defined Empire’s lifetime, but some favourites didn’t quite make the cut. Ben Travis argues the case for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

When it came to picking a film to represent 2015, my head knows why we went for Mad Max: Fury Road – it’s a monolithic, visionary action movie like no other. But in my heart, I wanted Star Wars: The Force Awakens on the list. Sure, some dismiss it as a quasi-remake of A New Hope, and they’re not wrong. But plot isn’t what makes Star Wars, Star Wars – when you look back at the 1977 original, it’s a clear cut-and-paste hero’s journey. No, what makes Star Wars is a tone, a feeling, a texture – and that’s the thing that J.J. Abrams, faced with the most unenviable task, got incredibly right.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

From the second we meet Rey, clad entirely in rags, scalping gear from a crashed Star Destroyer, careening through its cavernous empty chambers, it tells us everything we need to know – not only about our new hero, a force-sensitive nobody just like Luke was at the beginning, but about Abrams’ approach. There he is, taking the pieces he needs from the franchise that the world knows and loves, and using them to build his own new adventure. He launches his vision of a post-Return Of The Jedi universe with spine-tingling imagery – Rey eating sat against the foot of a crashed AT-AT, strolling through the desert with BB-8, speeding across the plains of Jakku on her speeder – that’s both achingly nostalgic, and thrillingly new.

It’s a film where the past and the future are two forces in perfect balance.

Of course, what the world was most excited for at the time of release was the return of the Original Trilogy icons – and The Force Awakens mostly nails it. There’s pathos in the knowledge that Han and Leia had a son, here the villain in a surprise I truly didn’t see coming, and eventually broke up. And of course Leia became a general with the Resistance while Han went back to his scoundrelly, smuggling ways. You could never accuse the film of using its old-timers lightly – this, after all, is the film that dares to kill Han Solo, the most beloved character of the saga, without making audiences riot. That scene between father and son is so resonant in the wider saga, so smartly and emotively written, with a sense of drama that lives up the phrase ‘space-opera’. And as for Luke, with mere seconds of screentime he makes an instantly memorable return. You go into The Force Awakens most excited for the old heroes to return, and leave with your brain buzzing about the possibilities of what’s coming next for Rey and Kylo Ren.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For anyone who had to grow up on the Prequel Trilogy – read: millennials – with its deathly dull trade negotiations, intangible CGI landscapes and lack of real adventure, The Force Awakens launched a Star Wars trilogy for that generation, who never saw the originals on the big screen, to get truly excited about. It is Star Wars to its very core, so entrenched in what came before, and yet also functions as the perfect jumping-on point for lapsed Jedi, non-believers and newcomers, with a diverse and well-drawn cast of new heroes to fall in love with. It’s a blockbuster that makes my heart soar when the lightsaber flies into Rey’s hand, and my stomach swoop every time the Millennium Falcon dips and lurches in that incredible Jakku tracking shot. It’s a film that does the impossible, in which J.J. Abrams brought the greatest blockbuster saga roaring back to life – one where the past and the future are two forces in perfect balance.

Read Empire's list of the 30 films that define the last 30 years.

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