Three months ago, when asked what he would like to do while he was staying for a long weekend, Brandon’s face lit up with hope. ‘Have you still got all the Star Wars movies?’ In the mayhem of settling him and his two sisters in, it wasn’t until the next morning that we discovered he’d forgotten his hay-fever tablets, and by then, he was suffering.
We bought some replacement tablets, but with the oilseed-rape in full bloom we could only encourage him to sit indoors, with the windows shut and wait for the antihistamine to work. So it was hardly fair to make the usual ‘square eyes’ comments when Brandon opted for watching tv, rather than chasing around outside with Samantha and Breanna. Anyway, it was supposed to be a fun, nag-free break. Brandon pulled the curtains and settled for Episode One: The Phantom Menace.
By the next day Brandon’s hay-fever was under control, but he was in the grip of a tremendous force. Although he emerged from his viewing-room for meals, and trips out, we weren’t convinced he’d left the world of the Jedi behind.
By the time he got to Episode Seven: The Force Awakens, four days later, the rest of us were with him, hooked by the fragments of story that we’d caught while checking he was okay. We’d started with brief recaps: ‘So is this the one where they defrost Hans Solo?’, or ‘Isn’t Yodo in all of them, then?’ Soon we were talking about the plot.
‘What is it you like?’ I asked Brandon. He couldn’t pin it down. ‘Maybe it’s just nostalgia,’ said the fifteen-year-old.
‘Good versus evil,’ said his grandfather, ‘and heroes, action and technology.’
It’s worth a writer thinking about the formula though, if they’re looking for broad appeal. We forgive the errors with plot, some anomalies, convenient lucky escapes (the First Order are frequently shockingly bad shots at crucial moments for The Resistance), and some incredibly clunky dialogue that at times suggests we’re too daft to figure out what is happening, or why.
It works, because although the good-guys have their backs to the wall, they are determined to fight the dark side. The central characters are flawed, experience serious doubts, then comes a crisis. Worlds are at stake. If the heroes fail, they lose everything. They take up the challenge, and we’re gripped. We expect them to win, but the odds against that are stacked so high it’s hard to foresee how that can come about.
Winning can’t be easy. We want heroes who, when faced by an enemy of phenomenal power, get themselves out of trouble. The Force is always there, we just don’t always understand how strong and clever we are until we face that blank page.