A novice’s primer on the Force

It all still happens in a galaxy far, far away. Different planets with widely differing dress codes are represented in a galactic Parliament, though some are monarchs. And there are rebels. So there’s a war on, and there are good guys and bad guys. The general weapon of choice, among the elite warriors anyway, is the lightsaber: a sword made of some kind of laser. The good guys have blue beams and the bad guys have red ones.

You can safely skip the prequel trilogy (or find the 10-minute YouTube clip summary), which was made long after the first (1977 to 1983).

All you need to know is that in it a planetary queen and a young Jedi knight fall in love and engender a child who will be a young man by the start of the proper trilogy, which begins with Star Wars itself (later renamed Episode IV: A New Hope) and continues with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, in order of chronological appearance and declining interest as narrative entertainment.

It’s all about the war between a rapacious empire and the good guys, the Jedi, who control a mysterious Force. In the first trilogy the Force is weakened by the bad guys; in the second it’s starting to come back to life, and the good guys eventually destroy the baddies –  or most of them.

In the new episode, subtitled The Force Awakens, it’s 30 years since we last saw the world of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and space pilot Han Solo, but the war is still on. As Wookieepedia informs us: “A New Republic [good guys] has arisen, but the First Order [bad guys] has sprung from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.”


The old stars return: Mark Hamill (Luke), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Harrison Ford (Solo) of the humans, plus Chewbacca the wookiee and the robots C-3PO and R2-D2 from the 1977 movie. We will also see a scene that recalls the famous Mos Eisley Cantina, where a gallimaufry of different species from different planets gather photogenically. Jar Jar Binks, a much-detested computer-generated character from the prequels, will not reappear.

Who’s the hero, you say? Well, there are a few. Apart from the oldies, who’ll mostly be back-up heroes, there’s fighter pilot Poe Dameron; Finn, a First Order stormtrooper who has changed sides; a female scavenger named Rey; and a “rolling droid”, BB-8. One or more of these may turn out to be children of the Leia-Han union (end of Episode VI), or perhaps a child of Luke’s whose origins have yet to be explained.

Villains? One Kylo Ren represents the “dark side”; Captain Phasma leads the First Order baddies. Kylo Ren has a new-design light-saber (red). Whatever else, we know that a Star Wars movie will have great special effects. Even the crap ones did.

Read more from Shaun de Waal or follow him on Twitter

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Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.

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