George Lucas always intended “Star Wars” to be nine-part series. Episodes IV-VI came out in the 70’s and 80’s. The poorly-received Episodes I-III are a decade old. Now we’re kicking off the final trilogy with the J.J. Abrams-directed Episode VII, “The Force Awakens.”
We spend the first hour or so getting to know our new characters. Star pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gets a map to find a high-ranking member of the noble Resistance, who may be the key to winning the war against the evil First Order. He stuffs the map inside a robot called BB-8 (a lot of the marketing has been built around BB-8 and for good reason – the thing is adorable) and immediately gets captured. A First Order Stormtrooper (John Boyega) sees his colleagues kill civilians in the capture and decides that he’s had enough of working for the bad guys. He helps Poe escape (Poe rewards his human gesture by rechristening him “Finn” to replace his soulless alpha-numeric label) and the two go looking for the BB-8 unit. Finn soon finds himself searching alone.
BB-8 finds itself aligning with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a beaten-down harvester of wrecked ships. She’s had a rough life, but at some point she picked up everything she needs to be an excellent action movie heroine. The two then form a shaky bond with Finn and the three of them escape Rey’s pathetic planet in a pathetic wrecked ship. The ship gets captured by a freighter, and herein starts the real spoilers so I have to stop.
The new good guys are pretty much covered, but there’s also the matter of the new bad guy. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a high-ranking member of the First Order. He wants to reach the heights of Darth Vader, though he’s merely mostly sure that he wants to embrace the Dark Side. Like Vader, he wears black and talks with a deep voice from behind a helmet (I’d describe the voice as Vader mixed with Javier Bardem from “No Country for Old Men”), but unlike Vader, he does so as a stylistic choice. He even chooses to take off the helmet on occasion.
Because their names appear in the film’s advertising, I suppose it’s not much of a spoiler to say that six popular characters from Episodes IV-VI are back. Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), General (formerly Princess) Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (with input from Kenny Baker) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) are all back in some capacity. I won’t say how exactly, but I will say that C-3PO’s reintroduction is my favorite moment in the movie.
The best thing about this film is the way it seamlessly blends the old and new characters. Several (not all, but several) of the old ones are back for more than just a cameo or a teaser of a role in Episode VIII. But the film also makes it clear that the new characters are here to stay, and they’re so charming, funny, and interesting that you’ll have no problem with that. I can’t imagine any future critics saying that the franchise was doing fine until one of these characters came along.
The worst thing about the film is actually very similar to the best thing, and that’s how much the plot mimics Episodes IV-VI. It’s expected that there are going to be light saber battles and shots of alien lifeforms, cities, and ships. But specific details like crucial information stored in a droid, a cantina scene, and that classic twist rearing its head again (and possibly again in the next two movies) suggests that the film was afraid to go anywhere original outside of the new characters.
Still, this is a fun, fun movie. The “Star Wars” franchise is in good hands with J.J. Abrams. If you’re willing to consume hearty portions of fan service, then “The Force Awakens” is a real holiday feast (by which I mean Christmas, not the infamous Life Day).
Three Stars out of Five.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence. Its running time is 135 minutes.
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