“You sure you’re up for this?”
–Han Solo and Finn
Opening this week is what must surely be one of the most anticipated films of recent history: The latest installment of the evergreen Star Wars saga, “The Force Awakens.”
Set a few decades after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” this story revolves around the increasingly powerful First Order–a military organization based around the glorification of the now-fallen Galactic Empire that seeks to once again subject the galaxy to oppressive domination.
Rising up to stop them is the Resistance–a new version of the Rebel Alliance–led by General Leia Organa. In an effort to gain an advantage in their struggle, one of their best pilots is sent on a daring mission to uncover the location of a lost asset. Captured by a team from the First Order, headed by powerful Force Sensitive Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron manages to hide the map in a small droid who takes off into the Jakku desert in search of help.
Along the way, BB-8 will pick up a scavenger…
And who knows who else? Along the way there are traumatic separations, gallant rescues, touching reunions, and a whole lot of explosions, as you’d expect from a Star Wars film.
Director JJ Abrams parallels “A New Hope” pretty closely in some regards, but is savvy enough to realize that today’s audiences would have difficulty viewing the stark good-vs-evil space conflicts with the same naivetÃ© as they did in the 1970s. Here, an effort has been made to ensure all characters have layered motivations and mixed impulses–which sometimes robs the Dark Side of the almost absolute menace Darth Vader illustrated so well.
Of the new characters, Daisy Ridley does an excellent job with Rey, making her both strong and self-sufficient, without turning her into a dour Lara Croft. John Boyega invests Finn with a light sense of humor that plays well off of the others.
As far as the villains Kylo (Adam Driver) Ren and General (Domhnall Gleeson) Hux go, they get the slightly more challenging part of trying to jockey for favor from the CGI Supreme (Andy Serkis) Leader (Captain EO anybody?) There’s little denying that Serkis is the King of Motion Capture, but I’m not sure if he’s solely the reason I kept wondering why Gollum was running the First Order.
The three major returning cast members look great and are used to good effect throughout the film. Although the storyline is definitely centered around the new cast, the legacy cast serves to ground the film in Star Wars history and lends it a depth it would certainly not have had without them.
While the plot is action-filled and stuffed with enough references and winks to the original films to satisfy any long-time fan, I found the first half to be stronger overall. The introduction of the new characters and their escape from the First Order feels both exciting and fresh. The second half, in which a lot of conflicts resolve in somewhat predictable ways, seems a little familiar. The fact that the story is also clearly meant to continue from film to film gives it something of a serialized air.
At the end of the day, however, none of that really matters: This is Star Wars…or as close to it as we’ve come since 1983. It looks great and it feels authentic. If you weren’t a fan before, you’d be hard-pressed not to be a fan by the time you leave.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is presented by Lucasfilm and directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13, it stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Max Von Sydow.
Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk are producing with Tommy Harper
and Jason McGatlin serving as executive producers. The screenplay is by J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” releases in U.S. theaters on December 18, 2015.