George Lucas’ noble effort – heretofore known as the Star Wars prequel trilogy – can now safely be buried never to be spoken of again beginning Thursday night (Dec. 17).
For those of us whom Star Wars: Episode 1V – A New Hope represented a revelation to the magic of the movie theater (it was one of several film for me in the ‘70s), Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the film we’ve waited for close to four decades.
Director J.J. Abrams shows his passion for the Star Wars universe, its characters, its idiosyncrasies all while expanding it in a thoroughly enjoyable jaunt that will satisfy original fans and giving the current generation their own Star Wars tale to appreciate.
Make no mistake about The Force Awakens, however, this is movie that those original fans wanted and, dare I say, needed to keep the warm and fuzzy feeling that Star Wars provided when the original trilogy unfolded through the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Abrams is a master at resuscitating movie franchises. He worked his magic on Mission: Impossible first then elevated Star Trek to a different level with a reboot of that franchise and now he does the same for perhaps the most revered movie franchise of them all. There are similarities in the way this film unfolds with A New Hope, but distinct differences lie elsewhere.
Of course it continues in a galaxy far, far away.
The galaxy is different, only the same now as the Empire is gone, but evil still wants to ooze through the planetary systems and the First Order – controlled by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) – has assumed authoritarian power. There also exists a resistance now led by Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).
Leia sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to the planet Jakku in the hopes of getting a clue to where her brother, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is. When the First Order discovers Poe’s whereabouts, they attack capturing him and sending his BB-8 droid fleeing with the information.
The mechanical marvel is found by Rey (Daisy Ridley, a feisty, intelligent and sassy young woman plying her trade on the planet Jakku as a scavenger. She soon realizes that she has something far more valuable than just a droid when a business acquaintance offers an exorbitant sum for it.
That’s not the only aspect of her life that’s about to change as she joins forces with a former Stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) who escapes to her home planet. With the First Order on their tails, they steal a ship and meet with some old friends in Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Together they meet with Leia in the hopes of solving the mystery of Luke’s disappearance.
The plot twists to The Force Awakens is far more complex and interesting than that. What’s key, however, is what Abrams does with the conventions Lucas established in that original trilogy. He uses them to his advantage, yet gives it an air of freshness.
With a script he collaborated on with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, he balances the serious material with the light tone when possible. Everyone knows that Han Solo majors in smartass and that character’s endearing quality shines through. Yet with new characters such as Rey and Finn, we’re given something new to chew on in that both possess similar traits, but bring youthful curiosity to the proceedings along with heaping doses of charisma. It’s easy to add Adam Driver as baddie Kylo Ren to that list as well.
The star, however, here is Abrams. His passion for Star Wars oozes from every single frame. He strives for continuity with The Force Awakens. The film itself possesses the soft look that the originals had. He keeps the CG to a minimum.
However, his most important contribution: taking the franchise to a place it’s never been emotionally. It resonates in ways that none of that first trilogy did. Call it a difference in directors, but Abrams can heighten a moment.
There is a battle raging between those small screens people carry in their pockets and those that exist in local movie houses. In this battle, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will win. How good is it?
Its predecessor contributed to my love of film. It’s good enough to make kids fall in love with watching movies in a theater.
Movie: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens
Director: J.J. Abrams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Peter Mayhew, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac
Studio: Walt Disney Studios
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running time: 135 minutes
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com