‘Star Wars’ is back with ‘The Force Awakens’
I was just a little boy when “Return of the Jedi” was released in theaters, so for most of my childhood, “Star Wars” to me was watching videos in my living room. I’d pull out my action figures — some “Star Wars” figures, the rest G.I. Joes — and I’d act out the galactic battle between the Light and Dark sides of the force.
When the original trilogy was re-released in 1997, I skipped school and headed to the theater. It was magical. When the prequels were announced, I was overjoyed. But like so many tried and true “Star Wars” fans, Episodes I, II and III were underwhelming.
But when Disney acquired Lucasfilm and announced plans for Episode VII, I was excited. I remembered the feeling I got watching the original films, and I let myself get excited. I am a film critic, but I am also a fan boy at heart. Which is why I watched Episode VII wearing a t-shirt with Luke, Leia and Han’s faces on it.
I get the feeling director J.J. Abrams had the same sense of nostalgia. It comes through in his interviews but, more importantly, it comes through in his movie. “The Force Awakens,” in addition to a lot of other things, plays like a love letter to “Star Wars” fans and to George Lucas, the mastermind behind the original film.
In writing a review of the film, there are plenty of challenges. The plot for “The Force Awakens” has been a carefully guarded secret, so I won’t spoil that for anyone here. Suffice it to say, the film returns all of our favorite heroes — Han Solo (Harrison Ford), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) — while building a new group of heroes for a new generation. Those new heroes include Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) as well as a new nemesis in Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). And that’s all I’ll say about the specifics of the film’s story and plot.
What I will say is that I loved “The Force Awakens.” It’s a big step up from the prequels and gives hope for the future as it establishes what Disney intends to be an expanded universe. It is everything the little boy in me dreamed about, and it’s everything the film critic in me hoped it would be. And that’s quite an achievement for a film that’s carried the weight of decades of fan expectation.
Abrams isn’t the most celebrated director but he’s a great storyteller. He knows how to handle massive expectations and how to revive a franchise. He did it with “Mission Impossible III,” then he did it again with “Star Trek” in 2009. Now he’s done it with “Star Wars,” and you can tell he’s done it because of his love and reverence for the original film.
The plot here achieves the tricky dance of picking up the stories of old friends, introducing new characters and setting up a conflict that will be carried to conclusion in future installments. Again, not an easy dance, but Abrams does it in a beautiful and compelling way.
For me, the star of the film was Ford. It’s been 32 years since he last inhabited the skin of Han Solo, but he picks it up without missing a beat. In the same way Sylvester Stallone has become an award contender for showing a new side of a classic character with “Creed,” I think Ford should be recognized for the way he seamlessly helps tie the new characters to the old and helps carry this new story.
Also strong are Boyega, Ridley and Driver. We’re used to seeing Driver as the comedic relief on “Girls,” but here he shows something a little different. He does a nice job with the role and I’m excited to see how it evolves.
Boyega and Ridley are also great. They have incredible screen chemistry, play off one another well and take to their roles with ease. If one of the problems of the prequels was the new characters — and performances — weren’t compelling enough to hook people, there are no worries about that with these films. I can’t wait to see how these characters — and this story — develops as the franchise moves ahead into a new era.
If you’ve been waiting for a “Star Wars” film that evoked those fond memories from nearly 40 years ago, the wait is over. “The Force Awakens” is not only one of the best films of the year, it’s one of the best “Star Wars” films.
“Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
Four stars out of four.