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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Movie Review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' – More Than Worth the Wait

Okay, here goes my first spoiler – the very first thing you will see is like pure gold: the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. ” My second spoiler is that there is an opening scrawl to explain that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and other assorted information. Cue the goosebumps, pins and needles, and tingling spine as you wait for what comes next!
So that’s it for spoilers in case you want more they won’t be revealed here. In many ways the whole movie is a spoiler, so in essence writing a review is a bit tricky, but I am game if you are.
It goes without saying what you already know – the gang is back in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess now turned General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). It may not be as big as getting the Beatles back together, but it feels pretty damn close.
Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Alias, Lost) has been super respectful to the source material, even more so than George Lucas, the creator of Darth Vader, Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, and company, who was responsible for the three generally disparaged prequels (by the way, I for one enjoyed Revenge of the Sith) and the notion of The Force – an energy that runs through the universe and has good and bad elements – that is a beloved Star Wars religion. The Jedi upheld all the lightness associated with it and the Sith embraced the dark side – creating evil characters like Darths Maul, Vader, and Sidious, and in this film the Darth wannabee Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The good news is that Han Solo and his trusty sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) have a prominent role in the film, as does Han’s beloved Millenium Falcon (apparently still causing awe amongst characters who know about the famous Kessell Run). It’s good to see Ford playing the role with gusto, and the comic interaction between him and Chewie is the stuff of fond memories.
Newcomers Daisy Ridley (Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku)) and John Boyega as Finn (a Stormtrooper turned reluctant at first resistance fighter) both fully embrace their roles which should make them this generation’s next iconic stars. Ridley portrays her character with subtle mannerisms and movements which reveal much about her in a gutsy performance; Ridley stakes her claim to the tradition of a strong female begun by Fisher and then trampled upon by Natalie Portman in the prequels, and it is about time we get to see a woman who knows how to handle a lightsaber. Boyega is full of gung-ho enthusiasm as the former Stormtrooper who wants out after seeing his fellow white armor-clad brethren slaughter a village of innocents.
Rey and Finn soon find themselves on that famous ship that Solo and Chewie used to bounce around the galaxy trying to make some money all the while hoping to escape those to whom even more loot is owed. When Solo answers their questions about Luke Skywalker, the Jedi, and the Force with “It’s all true,” I felt a real shiver up my spine.
There are all the assorted new oddball alien and human characters and exotic locales ranging from parched desert landscapes to lush forested shorelines and snow-covered worlds. Combine that with John Williams’s swelling musical score and the feeling of a return to something primordial and essential filled me with excitement and wonder – almost as much as when I saw the original film as a teenager in my own galaxy of long ago and far away.
The new droid is revealed as BB-8, belonging to Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (a charismatic Oscar Issac). In a move reminiscent of Princess Leia in the first (or fourth depending on your point of view) film, Poe puts secret plans about Luke’s whereabouts inside BB-8 before his imminent capture by Ren and his men. The first scenes are about bringing BB-8 together with first Rey and then Finn, and they make it their mission to get the plans to Leia.
There are the requisite soap opera-ish elements that we came to love in the original trilogy but none of the more grating issues that arose in the prequel trilogies (such as annoying Jar Jar Binks or the puckish little Anakin). There is also Abrams’s firm but loving hand, guiding the ship with a script he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. It feels right even if some will say that all the right buttons may have been pushed a little too often. Nevertheless, it is like a wave of nostalgia hitting you while riding a roller coaster.
So even though more than a few elements seem familiar, there is plenty of new here that shakes the dust off the force and indeed awakens it in a new and resounding light. As always the battle between good and evil is front and center, with the strength of the Force wavering as each side tries to get ahead in an effort to be victorious. Even chief villain Ren stumbles in his embrace of the dark side, feeling the inexplicable pull of the light side on his soul (when you see the film you will understand why he is so conflicted).
The darkly clad (ominously reminiscent of Darth Vader) villain answers to his master, the truly evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), and their supposedly mutual purpose is to vanquish the last Jedi (Skywalker) and dominate the galaxy in a warped way to honor the legacy of Vader while assuming total power and complete victory for the dark side.
The ending leaves more than enough hanging in the balance for the two inevitable sequels to follow, and we have two engaging and likeable leads in Ridley and Boyega; they are going to be big stars after their work in this film. They have what they used to call “chemistry” and it works very well to enhance the storyline.
Most of all we have the continuing saga that all started with the story of a young farm boy named Luke Skywalker, for whom we have been pulling ever since he stared longingly at those double setting suns on Tatooine wanting to follow in the footsteps of his Jedi father. After all this time Star Wars: The Force Awakens remains true to that spirit – a story about family, how evil can tear it apart, and how the Force can either be with or against you in the eternal struggle between good and evil.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is better than the original film and as good as The Empire Strikes Back; the Force is definitely and overwhelmingly with this movie and will be with you when you see it.

Photo credits: starwars.com 

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