The Star Wars franchise is a pop culture phenomenon that is unrivaled in cinema. Once the bold logo and John Williams’ theme song blasts across the screen, it is difficult to resist the nostalgia that fills up inside of you. Director JJ Abrams takes the reins from George Lucas knowing full well that he is dealing with a revered national treasure. Diehard fans as well as a new generation of aficionados can rest assured that Abrams has done the impossible. He has reinvigorated the franchise and exceeded expectations. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a well-crafted film that successfully whets our appetite for more to come. The reason it works so well is that he revises elements from the original Star Wars and fuses it with the introduction of new characters that make the adventure fresh again without rocking the boat.
It cannot be stressed enough that what Abram achieves is impeccable characterization. Abrams co-wrote the script with the help of veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan who is no stranger to the venerable franchise. Kasdan penned ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘The Return of the Jedi’ and ‘The Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and although the plot may appear to be paper thin on its surface, it adequately sets the stage for a new trilogy. It is funny, fast-paced and sentimental. The story is centered on two new leads in Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). Rey is an orphan that scavenges scrap metal on the planet Jakku and Finn is an ex storm trooper. One of the most innovative new additions to the cast is the spherical BB-8, a droid with a rotating head and a lot of emotion. This cute droid is worth his weight in gold as he holds a possible secret (MacGuffin) to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker.
Abrams certainly delivers the special effects with epic old-school dogfights. He never reinvents the wheel but he makes it exciting with new twists and surprises. He introduces us to a hotshot resistance pilot Poe Dameron (an excellent Oscar Isaac) who gets to hijack a TIE Fighter that gives the audience a thrilling glimpse inside the enemy aircraft. The Empire has been reborn as the First Order and looks similar to the Third Reich particularly when all the soldiers are lined up in formation to battle the Resistance. With the absence of Darth Vader, there are new villains like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) that is prone to tantrums with his lightsaber when not getting his way. The Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) looks like a giant-sized Gollum and has the potential to be a real baddie in future installments. The commander of the First Order General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is actually more sinister than Ren and controls a variation of the Death Star known as the Star Killer.
Abrams also deserves kudos in the way he brings back old characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). It gives you a surge of nostalgia when you see him with his buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Ford easily slips back into the wisecracking Han Solo persona without missing a beat. He has a bittersweet moment with the raspy-voiced Leia but it is when he meets Rey that everything falls into place. Ridley is amazing in the lead role. Not only is she resourceful but she turns out to be a talented pilot. Without giving away too much, the sequences with the legendary starship the Millennium Falcon are brilliant. You cannot help but feel goose bumps every time it makes an appearance on screen.
Abrams is a master at thrusting you into the story. Rey and Finn are the reluctant heroes. They are quirky characters that have emotional back stories. Instead of explaining too much, Abrams simply lets the action speak for itself and reveal bits of it through expert characterization. Rey and Finn never spend time training on how to use a lightsaber, they just pick it up and do what’s necessary to battle the bad guys. Rey is obviously the next version of Luke in the trilogy but she is much more than that when you see her behind the wheel of the Millennium Falcon. Abrams gets praise for making the trilogy’s new hero female and making Finn a man of color. They are quirky, funny and at times scared but that is what makes both characters so endearing. They are ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. We can identify with them because they feel so real.
The verdict is in and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is a good start to the trilogy. Abrams has played it safe with using old plot elements but he has laid down the foundation with an amazing cliffhanger. He has safely landed the venerable franchise and it will be exciting to see where the next episode journeys. The force is strong once again. Check out the official trailer https://youtu.be/sGbxmsDFVnE.