Like almost everyone else in striking distance of a cinema, we went to see the new Star Wars over the holiday. No one who did could claim to be disappointed, in that it turned out to be exactly as anyone would have expected.
I remember the shock of the first film, when I saw it as a student in 1977. George Lucas was an unknown, who had gambled a lot on an unproven project. It was not exactly The Seventh Seal or Citizen Kane – Alec Guinness, who made an unreasonable amount of money out of it, plainly despised it.
Some of the dialogue was risible – there are remarkably few quotes from such a popular film that made it into everyday parlance. One critic described it as “disco for the eyes”, as he said it resembled the sort of slick, empty dance music made at the time.
But it was something completely new, taking science fiction cinema into a new era. The initial shots on Tatooine were startlingly original. The floater looked real. The aliens were not just men in rubber suit – well, some of them were men in rubber suits but they didn’t always look like it. One of Lucas’s cleverest tricks was avoiding plinky-plonk “futuristic” electronic music, as you might expect in SF, for more martial themes.
The JJ Abrams “reboot” looks too cynical a retread. Weird jazz band in a Western-style cantina? Tick. Huge destructive machine about to destroy the Universe? Tick. Defeated with just seconds to go? Tick. Inconclusive light sabre battle, to allow for sequels? Tick.
The only real shock was, in hindsight, probably inevitable, in that it allowed the new central character to assume the role of an earlier one.
I do not know how many times I have seen the first, 1977, Star Wars, mostly with my children, who were not even born when the third came out. I doubt I shall see the JJ Abrams version very often. And I wonder if the film industry is capable, in these days of focus groups and global franchises, of making anything simultaneously so original and so overwhelmingly popular as that original film.