The Force is with us: What we made of the new Star Wars

Harrison Ford and Alex Zane on stage during the Star Wars: The Force Awakens European Premiere held in Leicester Square, London.

Harrison Ford and Alex Zane on stage during the Star Wars: The Force Awakens European Premiere held in Leicester Square, London.

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens enjoyed its European premiere in London. Film Critic Tony Earnshaw was there.
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They troop into the ballroom of London’s Corinthia Hotel and suddenly every fanboy’s fantasy has come to tangible, breathing life.

There are eight members of the wider cast and crew of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford take their seats alongside newcomers Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong’o, with director JJ Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, the room fairly buzzes with energy.

Our heroes appear surprisingly chipper considering the long road they have taken to bring Episode VII to the screen. Even the notoriously grumpy Harrison Ford manages a smile.

The denizens of the European Press corps offer up a smattering of questions, some inane, some viable. “Describe Star Wars in just one word,” says one. “Family,” says Carrie Fisher, which seems to sum up the overall mood.

What did you do in the audition process to make you stand out, asks one writer of 23-year-old debut heroine Daisy Ridley, playing desert scavenger Rey.

“I have no idea. I just tried very hard and I hoped very much. There wasn’t much advice from people like Harrison. People were leading by example. It was amazing to meet people who were so established and who were kind and generous.”

Adds Adam Driver, playing dark Jedi Kylo Ren: “ It was terrifying because no matter how long you get to do this job you never really quite figure it out. That was both comforting and terrifying.”

Carrie Fisher leans in to the microphone. “Don’t go through the crew like wildfire!” she quips. Everybody laughs. But there is also an overwhelming sense of relief. The film is out. The public has seen it. The first reviews are in. “It’s an enormous relief,” confesses Abrams. “This was a few years of intense work from literally thousands of people. At the end of the film you see all those names… each of those people lost sleep and didn’t see their families. On behalf of all of them I’m so relieved to let this get out of the editing room so people can see it.”

For Harrison Ford, part of the thrill of donning Han Solo’s iconic waistcoat again was the notion of complying with Disney’s stringent rules on secrecy. But it worked, with thousands of reviewers around the world complying by not giving away crucial plot points.

“I have actually relished this entire experience. I think a lot of the credit for that goes to JJ and Larry [Kasdan]. This is a rare experience in my life and I’m very grateful for it. I’m amazed by how the Press has respected their readership in this regard and has not really spilled the beans, which is kind of amazing. We’re all very grateful for that.”

Abrams talks of the frustration of seeing spoilers online, with some viewers – ardent fans, malicious trolls – putting out key details of the plot that have been kept carefully camouflaged for months. But, he says, the fact that the film has been out in the wider world for a whole 12 hours makes him happy.

“I know people feel a need and are entitled to whatever they want to know when they want to know it,” he says. “I was very gratified to see people saying things like, ‘Thank you to Disney for not spoiling the movie and telling us everything before the picture comes out. It’s interesting. Star Wars is all about inclusivity and connection, the whole idea of the Force. When I saw the film aged 10 that idea that we were all connected was actually happening in the theatre. Hundreds of people were screaming, laughing, crying at the same time. You were all connected by this energy and there’s something very powerful about that.”

The trick in making this new Star Wars a success fell to Kasdan and Abrams. Identifying the mindset, says Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, was “very exciting”.

“I’ve been writing movies and directing them for a long time. Then when it actually gets made and edited it’s so close to what you dreamed and to what JJ and I talked about from the first day onwards. You get that spirit and then you sense other people around you getting that same excitement.

“From the moment we met we agreed what we thought the tone of the thing should be, what the fun of it was.”

Suddenly John Boyega makes a late entrance. As Finn, a stormtrooper-with a conscience, he enjoys the lion’s share of the action with Ridley and emerges as a genuine star-in-the-making.

“Apologies, guys,” he says sheepishly. “John overslept. Very busy night last night…” More laughter as the watching Press corps enjoys the truth of a young man enjoying the moment – the morning after the long night before. Ford grins in support.

Boyega tells of visiting Tokyo and seeing his face on a bottle in a convenience store. At that point, he says, the whole experience became hyper real.

“It’s definitely strange. We went to Tokyo and the first thing I saw was Daisy’s face, then my face and then [the droid] BB-8. I was in Tokyo, I’d never been there in 
my life but to have my image 
there – and Daisy’s – was quite shocking. It was a very, very proud moment.”

Daisy Ridley tops it. “It’s funny: in the pub I was working in not two years ago I used to watch buses going past with faces on them and I’d think, ‘That would be really cool’. I said to John, ‘I can’t wait! I want to be on the side of a bus!’ And I’ve not seen a bus yet…”

• Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A) is on saturation release.

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