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Star Wars: is the Force still strong with this one?

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I’m really looking forward to The Force Awakens. I haven’t been this excited about the release of a film since … well, I guess … The Phantom Menace, back in 1999.

There are a number of reasons I’m excited. Mostly, because this film reunites the key original cast members; Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Harrison Ford as the iconic Han Solo.

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The other reason I’m looking forward to a new batch of Star Wars films is because George Lucas has had minimal involvement in them.

Although it was great to get some new Star Wars universe films in 1999 with the three prequels, the end product confirmed that whatever cinematic magic Lucas possessed when he created the original had well and truly disappeared.

There were a lot of things that sucked about Episodes I, II and III: Hayden Christensen’s performance for starters.

Disney apparently rejected Lucas’ storyline drafts for the new film, and brought in J.J Abrams to direct the latest efforts instead.

If Abrams’ success with the Star Trek franchise re-boot can be replicated in the Star Wars universe, then the horror of Jar Jar Binks, a tribe of Ewoks and whatever the hell General Grievous was supposed to be may become distant memories.

But when I take off the fan glasses and cast aside the inner-child delight in the band getting back together, I can’t escape an problematic truth: if I wasn’t a Star Wars fan, I’d have to admit there’s no possible way that Episode VII can live up to its hype.

Here’s why.

A moment in time

Part of the reason the original film was such a success was the climate it was released into.

As anyone who saw Star Wars on its original release would testify, no one had ever seen anything like it before. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was ground-breaking on its release in 1968 on a technical level, but A New Hope was science fiction on PCP by comparison.

Star Wars changed the way people went to the movies. The 1970s was a tumultuous period. The war in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal and the devastating squeeze put on western economies as OPEC choked the world’s oil supplies. The words ‘terrorism’ and ‘hostage crisis’ entered First World vernacular.

Closer to home, a democratically elected government was removed in a constitutional crisis and record inflation and unemployment brought the curtain down on the concept of the ‘lucky country’.

In much the same way as movie theatres and dance halls did during the Depression era, Star Wars provided people with a much-needed avenue of escape.

However, just as the zeitgeist of the 70s was a factor in Star Wars’ original success, the world we live in today could do the new film significant damage.

The internet

When Ridley Scott released Prometheus, a spin-off of the 1979 hit Alienin 2012, the online world lost its mind over-interpreting everything in the film, on a near frame-by-frame basis.

While Prometheus pulled $US403.3 million at the worldwide box office, it undisputedly suffered from hardcore Alien fan backlash.

In an industry which covets cash cows and surefire box office hits (three Hangover movies in four years, three Iron Man movies in five years) Prometheus’ follow-up, Alien: Covenant, isn’t expected to hit cinemas until 2017 – five years since the 2012 release of its predecessor.

Similarly – before The Force Awakens has been released – the Star Wars online community is abuzz, loaded with talk about how much Daisy Ridley looks like Natalie Portman. Surely, it follows in the online world, this must have an impact on the plot.

Likewise, why is Mark Hamill, arguably the star of the franchise, conspicuously absent from the movie’s promotional posters and teaser trailers? This too must have some intrinsic impact on the plot.

Have we lost the art of simply sitting back and enjoying entertainment for the sake of enjoying it as entertainment? Does everything have to mean something?

The bottom line

When I walk into that cinema at midnight on opening ‘day’; as John Williams’ iconic score fills the room and the opening crawl fills the screen with its familiar yellow text (I hope!), I’ll be looking forward to 135 minutes reuniting with a deeply formative part of my childhood.

Can this latest Star Wars film replicate the excitement and passion that the original delivered in 1977? Of course not. As its release draws ever near, The Force Awakens is the talk of the town.

Is all the talk going to be justified? Probably not, but I don’t care – it’s so much more to me than what appears on the screen.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits Australian cinemas on December 17, 2015.

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