Star Wars: The Force Awakens is every bit the marvelously entertaining, visually exciting and nostalgia inducing holiday blockbuster that months, indeed years, of hype and fan anticipation have suggested it would be. Make no mistake, it’s worth seeing and savoring every giddy fanboy/fangirl and/or childhood memory it evokes under director J.J. Abrams capable efforts to revive and reinvigorate this beloved franchise. The elements of fresh originality combined with comfortable nostalgia within The Force Awakens manages to effectively remove the stigma and stench of George Lucas’ misbegotten trio of overblown and overproduced prequels that tarnished the legacy of his original and iconic Star Wars trilogy.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets back to basics in its overall look, feel and unbridled attempt at free-wheeling space opera fun wonderfully benefitting from a capable core group of actors and central characters.
Set 30 years, after Return Of The Jedi, this latest film places us in a world where the earlier apparent triumph of the rebellion over The Empire has been replaced by the emergence of its evil remnants now called The First Order. Led by evil new leaders, among them is Kylo Ren ( Adam Driver ) a masked, black garbed villain that reeks of Darth Vader lite.
The Order is intent on finding, now elder, long lost Jedi Luke Skywalker ( Mark Hamill ) who has disappeared for reasons not revealed here, among many, to avoid spoiling the unseen film for the fan faithful. However, the information to finding Skywalker is imparted to a “roly-poly” droid in the cutesy mold of R2-D2, named BB-8 by his fighter pilot handler, Poe ( Oscar Isaac ). The info BB-8 has is essential to the good folk of The Resistance; not only to beat back The First Order; but in the process, also defeat their ultimate planet sized, world killing weapon that is so immense, it makes the gigantic Death Star look like an interstellar Chihuahua.
Does some of this sound familiar ?
The film introduces us to new pivotal characters presumably designed to carry on the Star Wars torch into future films. Desert scavenger Rey ( Daisy Ridley ) is the strongest, most entertaining addition who initially protects BB-8 and eventually discovers a powerful strength and ability she never knew she possessed beforehand. Ridley wonderfully imbues her character with wit, intensity and self-assured female empowerment that’s a joy to watch evolve onscreen.
Ridley soon joins forces with Finn ( John Boyega ) a disillusioned Stormtrooper who aids Rey in getting BB-8 to The Resistance, led by former princess, now General Leia ( Carrie Fisher ). Along the way, Rey and Finn encounter an older, somewhat wiser Han Solo ( Harrison Ford ) and Chewbacca along with the Millennium Falcon.
Of course, the biggest audience draw to this film is the highly anticipated return of Han Solo, Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO and while Harrison Ford gets the best moments to channel his old roguish mojo with Chewy, and now Rey; Ford’s moments with Fisher, while nostalgically sigh-inducing and moderately poignant, also lack any real narrative weight or real development.
Worth noting is the motion capture and vocal performance of actress Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata, a wise female alien in the mold of Yoda; but also imbued with a touch of intergalactic street smarts and attitude.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is great fun and undoubtedly a defining contemporary cultural event that millions worldwide will gleefully bask in embracing with abandon. However, this new film also sadly reeks far too often of deja vu and reboot infection by returning to the well of past glory in its narrative theme, storyline and perhaps a tad too many knowing references to memorable moments from the past films.
Not to say that trips like this down memory lane aren’t marvelous experiences; but like revisiting one’s high school reunion; the initial excitement is always there at the beginning, but as the night wears on, the memories just aren’t always as uniquely joyous as they were when experienced – so wonderfully fresh the very first time.