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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

J.J. Abrams gives Star Wars fans the film they’ve been waiting 30 years to see

About a week ago, Star Wars creator George Lucas was asked what he thought of the newest installment in the film franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

“I think the fans are going to love it,” Lucas said. “It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for.”

click to enlarge Star Wars: The Force Awakens
On the run: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega)

As most fans already know, Lucas had nothing to do with the new film — he sold the rights to Disney for $4 billion. He had plans for new sequels, but Disney hated them and signed J.J. Abrams to write and direct a new series of films beginning with The Force Awakens.

I can’t say with absolute certainty that the true meaning behind Lucas’ statement is: “I hate this movie with the burning passion of a thousand exploding Death Stars because it’s the movie fans have always longed for me to make, but I decided instead to tell the story of Darth Vader in three excruciatingly boring movies that would have killed a franchise with a less-passionate fan base,” but after seeing this film, I’m fairly certain that’s what he means.

Because Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the follow-up movie that fans deserve and have waited 32 years for. The film is gorgeous to watch, has a great story and is a perfect homage to the original series, while at the same time setting the stage for future films. 

Thanks to closely guarded secrets, fans know little going into this picture, including what the actual plot is. As a fan of the originals, I appreciated this and entered with just a rough outline of the characters involved. I think fans of the film deserve to have the same experience, so I am not going to reveal any of the movies many twists and surprises.

But if you don’t want to know anything about the movie, stop reading now with the knowledge that the movie is the perfect sequel to A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. For those who crave a little more information, we’re moving on.

During the pre-release hype of The Force Awakens, a lot is made about the general absence of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) from teasers and trailers (save for a quick shot of his robotic hand). The Skywalker question is answered quickly in the film’s famous scrolling title card. It’s been 30 years since the events of Jedi — the death of Darth Vader, the father of Luke and Princess Leia, who is now a general with the resistance forces — and Luke Skywalker has disappeared. We also learn that the new force of evil in the galaxy is the First Order, a very Empire-like organization complete with Storm Troopers and an ominous figure in a black mask and cloak known as Kylo Ren and played by Adam Driver (Girls)

Ren channels the dark side of the force under the direction Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum). Ren, as well as the Resistance, are trying to track down a map that will lead to Skywalker’s whereabouts — Ren, Skywalker’s former pupil, wants to destroy the last Jedi Knight and the Resistance wants him to aid in the fight against the First Order. Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his droid, the adorable BB-8, secure the map on the planet of Jakku, but are quickly overtaken by Ren’s troops. Dameron is captured and BB-8 escapes with the map and later runs into Rey (Daisy Ridley), a lonely scavenger who is waiting for her family to return to the planet they left her on years earlier. The pair are later joined by Finn (John Boyega), an AWOL Storm Trooper.

And that’s all I want to say about plot because watching the story unfold, each secret and twist revealed in its own time, is part of the fun. And that’s what this film returns to the franchise: the fun, humor and fantasy that Lucas sucked out of it with his three horrible prequels. The prequels took themselves too seriously, trying to be a historically accurate retelling of the lineage of Darth Vader. They felt more like horribly acted, joyless History Channel docudramas based on actual facts.

Abrams doesn’t make that mistake here. The script penned by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan is full of humor. It takes itself just serious enough to make the action and drama in this film seem believable, and its comfortable with the sci-fi action without being melodramatic and ridiculous. The action sequences — many which take place in airship-to-airship combat — are exhilarating.

But like its three predecessors (again, I denounce the prequels), this story is character based. The old guard is here and does a solid, admirable job — Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher as Leia and Hamill as Skywalker. There are several tributes to the original films, and these original characters, especially Solo, still have the spirit of the ones you remember.  

However, the real stars of this film are the new players. Ridley’s Rey is strong and vulnerable and unapologetic about being either. This film offers several strong female characters, including Rey, the all-knowing Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) and the first female villain, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), a Storm Trooper in kick-ass platinum armor. 

Boyega is fantastic as Finn. Like Rey, he too is unaplogetically strong and vulnerable, but his bravery doesn’t come as easily or as willingly as Rey’s. He has a Han-Solo-from-the-first-film vibe and will obviously be integral going forward. On the Dark Side, Driver is riveting as Kylo Ren. In the original film, it took awhile to get a feel for what Vader was — man, machine, something else. But there’s no wondering about Ren: He’s very bad and very evil. 

So what’s the catch? Audiences may notice a sense of déjà-vu, and not just because there are characters from the originals. (In fact, the old characters are here to serve real purposes to advance the film, not just for a sense of nostalgia.) But a lot of the film’s bones will seem very familiar. The main plot is a band of Resistance fighters fighting a group of bad guys who have built a weapon capable of wiping out whole galaxies. 

This film, as I hope future installments will be, is driven by the characters. And without question, Abrams has assembled a cast of characters (and actors to play them) that promises to carry this new franchise forward. While there will be new secrets, worlds and plot twists to discover, I think giving this film a certain similarity to the first was a smart move on Abrams’ part. Lucas went so far off the rails with the prequels that fans needed to be reassured that this series was back on the right track. So Abrams gives us a new story and new characters in environs that we wanted to see and that we were comfortable in. 

Star Wars has always been the ultimate story of good vs. evil; a story of seeking redemption and finding out who we really are, even at the risk of destroying the world. Abrams has delivered the first leg of the new journey in The Force Awakens. He’s given fans the movie that we’ve been missing for more than three decades.