Of Trilogies and Old Friends, a New Era for Star Wars

I am an unabashed Star Wars fan.  When I first started watching movies as a teenager, I was introduced to the universe of Star Wars by my cousin.  And when I say the universe, I mean everything.  The movies, the making of documentaries, the books, the games, and even the Legos.  I fell in love with the worlds and characters and spent many hours reading in the extended universe and debating all aspects of the experience of Star Wars.  Needless to say I awaited JJ Abrams’s Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens with the giddy excitement of a puppy and the apprehension of a fan who had been let down by the story and execution of the prequels.  Under JJ’s expert direction and the unlimited resources and power of Disney, I really needn’t have been concerned.

After what seemed like an endless array of trailers, the movie began as all the Star Wars movies have, with that tell-tale booming theme and scrolling text, this time in stunning 3D IMAX glory.  We are told Skywalker has vanished, that the New Republic controls only a small set of systems, and that the rebellion has evolved into “the resistance” which is fighting an imperial faction known as the First Order.  We are quickly introduced to our new favorite droid, BB-8, and to the top resistance pilot Poe Dameron (an instantly likeable Oscar Isaac).  Just as the First Order descends on the planet Poe obtains a map segment which promises to lead to Skywalker.  Poe of course gives the map to BB-8 for safe keeping, the first of many citational scenes in the movie, in this case linking back to Leia giving R2-D2 the death star plans in the original Star Wars.  A firefight ensues as we are introduced to the ruthless power of the First Order and our new villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a sort of Vader pretender. We also meet a Stormtrooper, FN-2187 (John Boyega), who doesn’t have the stomach for the killing of innocents.  Poe is captured and taken back to a star destroyer where Ren tortures him for information.  FN-2187 decides to flee and breaks out Poe to fly him to freedom.  A great TIE Fighter battle ensues and eventually they are shot down, but not before Poe decides to call his new Stormtrooper friend Finn, the beginning of what surely will be an amazing bromance.

BB-8, having escaped the First Order, rolls across the deserts of Jakku and eventually meets a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley).  Rey is resourceful, intelligent, and self-sufficient, managing to scratch out a living collecting parts from the wreckage of the ships and vehicles from a massive battle that had happened some thirty years before.  She decides to help BB-8 and is eventually joined by Finn just as the First Order descends full force, guns blazing.  They escape the planet in an old piece of junk, a ship that looks rather familiar—yes, you guessed it, The Millennium Falcon.  And as they escape the system they run into a freighter run by none other than Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).    The real force that awakens is nostalgia.

The storyline of The Force Awakens is good and can stand on its own, but Star Wars geeks may appreciate it most. Abrams’ use of cinematography is stunning, returning to the saga’s roots of using as many real things as possible.  The droids are built; the landscapes are real places; and the CGI (unlike the dreary Star Wars prequels) enhances rather than constitutes the entire scene. This gives The Force Awakens a solid backdrop against which to tell its story

The acting throughout was incredibly strong; despite a couple of minor flaws, the characters are both interesting and believable.  Rey in particular is a tremendous success for science fiction, a strong independent female protagonist who is both complex and relatable.  Daisy Ridley’s acting is not only convincing but she also has great chemistry with both the old (Harrison Ford) and the new (John Boyega).  Another great advancement for the genre: the relationship between Rey and Finn.  While not explicitly romantic, such a strong relationship between a white woman and a black man is relatively unheard of in blockbusters and is great to see finally on screen.  The cast from the original trilogy remains strong and the attention to detail is crisp.  Subtle touches, including the voices of Yoda, Ben Kenobi, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, all add to the mythos of the film.

After 32 years at last we have, in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, a worthy sequel to the original trilogy.  JJ Abrams, assisted by strong performances from both the new and old casts, has created a sensational story that is a joy to watch. It is the first movie this year I wanted to watch again immediately after it finished. Is that me just being a fanboy? Perhaps. But The Force Awakens has defined a new generation in the international franchise that is Star Wars, reinvigorating the sci-fi blockbuster with a much-needed dose of diversity.

Grade: A-                                                                                                                    Despite minor plot flaws, this movie deserves to be watched in theaters.  At least once.

 Rating: PG-13                                                                                                  Apparently even with “Wars” in the title, you need to be told there is violence in the movie.

Star Wars VIII: The Force Awakens, Walt Disney Studios              Runtime: 135 minutes