On Friday, December 18, 2015, millions of “Star Wars” fans attended the theatrical debut of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the highly anticipated first installment in the new Sequel Trilogy of films set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Co-written by Abrams with Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back”), and Michael Arndt, “The Force Awakens” is an exciting thrill-ride that promises to reinvigorate the “Star Wars” saga and recapture the cinematic spark of magic of George Lucas’s original 1977-1983 trilogy.
“The Force Awakens” is set some 30 years after the events shown in “Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.” Emperor Palpatine and his infamous henchman Darth Vader are dead, but the remnants of the Galactic Empire still haunt a war-torn galaxy under the banner of the First Order. The former Rebel Alliance, now known as the New Republic, finds itself backing a group of freedom fighters called the Resistance.
In this time of crisis, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi Knight, has disappeared. His twin sister, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), knows that Luke is the only hope for the revival of the long-dead Jedi Order and the restoration of peace in the galaxy. Desperate to find her brother Leia recruits crack Resistance X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his astromech droid BB-8 on a secret mission to find any information that leads to Luke’s whereabouts.
In Tuanul, a village on the desert world of Jakku, Poe acquires a partial star map from the legendary adventurer Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow). But before he can take off with BB-8 aboard their X-wing, First Order stormtroopers led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) arrive. Ren kills Tekka when the old man refuses to divulge the location of the star map, which is now in BB-8’s memory banks. At Ren’s command, the stormtroopers kill almost everyone in Tuanul and capture Poe. In the confusion, BB-8 escapes and makes his way into the vast Jakku desert.
Things look dire for the Resistance pilot, now a prisoner aboard the Star Destroyer Finalizer. But FN-2187 (John Boyega), a stormtrooper with a conscience, rebels against the First Order and helps Poe escape aboard a TIE fighter. The two men become friends, and Poe gives the former trooper a new name – Finn.
Meanwhile, BB-8 is found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger who lives in a derelict Imperial walker. Rey was separated from her family at a young age; as a result, she has developed several skills that enable her to survive, including starship mechanics, fighting abilities, and a knack for flying. Rey and BB-8 later meet Finn, who was separated from Poe during their escape and is now on the run from his former First Order comrades. Eventually, this motley group escapes from Jakku aboard an old Corellian starship – the Millennium Falcon.
Along the way, Rey, Finn and BB-8 encounter the former owners of the battered freighter, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca the Wookiee (Peter Mayhew). Han looks as though he’s been through hell and back over the years, but he’s still the wisecracking scoundrel who helped the Rebellion destroy two Death Stars and defeat Palpatine’s Empire. Together with Rey, Finn and other members of the Resistance, Han and Chewie join the search for Luke Skywalker and the fight against the evil First Order.
Is the Force with “Star Wars – Episode VII?
In contrast to George Lucas’s much maligned Prequel Trilogy, “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” has captured the hearts and minds of many Star Wars fans. Most of the buzz about J.J. Abrams’ foray to that galaxy far, far away has been positive; the movie has earned praise from film critics and fans alike. Unlike, say, 1999’s “The Phantom Menace,” “The Force Awakens” is more action-oriented and has more of an emotional connection with “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi.”
Much of the credit for the success of “The Force Awakens” goes to J.J. Abrams. Abrams, a long-time “Star Wars” fan, not only co-wrote the screenplay and directed the movie, but he also co-produced it with his long-time collaborator Bryan Burk (“Star Trek”) and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. He wisely decided to give “The Force Awakens” the same Saturday matinee vibe that George Lucas channeled in 1977’s “Star Wars – Episode IV: A New Hope” by focusing more on action and character development than on arcane matters, such as galactic politics in the Senate.
Knowing that fans criticized Lucas for relying far too much on computer generated images in the prequels, Kennedy and Abrams opted to use location shooting and practical special effects as much as possible. They also made an effort to please many disenfranchised fans by casting Original Trilogy veterans such as Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), and Carrie Fisher (Leia Organa) alongside younger actors, including John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), and Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron).
The film also features a musical score composed by John Williams, who conducted a Hollywood studio orchestra rather than the London Symphony Orchestra, the famed musical ensemble that performed the previous six Star Wars film scores. Due to health issues, Williams was unable to travel to London to record “The Force Awakes” music with the LSO; in addition, William Ross and Gustavo Dudamel served as co-conductors in the recording sessions.
Although some critics say “The Force Awakens” is too similar to Lucas’s “Star Wars: A New Hope” and doesn’t take too many creative chances, Abrams’ film is one of the best chapters of the nearly 40-year-old space-fantasy franchise. If “The Force Awakens” lacks originality, it has a lighter, more fun tone than Lucas’s brooding Anakin Skywalker-centered prequels. Seeing old favorites such as Han, Leia, Chewie, and even a red-armed C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) alongside the saga’s new heroes gives old school fans more of an emotional connection to Episode VII, and the action sequences on Jakku and Starkiller Station are on par with the space battles seen in the Original Trilogy.
Truly, the Force is strong with “Star Wars – Episode VII.”