George Lucas launched a film franchise 38 years ago with his original “Star Wars” movie that not only was a box office blockbuster, but built legions of fans around the world. That fandom grew with “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) and “Return of the Jedi” (1983).
Trying to follow up that success – as Lucas found when he returned to the franchise 22 years after the first film – would only be equally successful with the same magical blend of story, characters and visual effects. Lucas came up short when he tried to find that formula with “The Phantom Menace.”
Director J.J. Abrams looked to create the same magic as “A New Hope” with his “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” the beginning of a new film dynasty for the space opera at Disney Studios. What Abrams has created is a film worthy of being placed in the canon of “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.”
He did that by taking advantage of what Lucas did correctly in his movies and avoiding the miscues, such as boring action scenes and offensive characters.
The strengths George Lucas brought to his films were the examination of family, the importance of friendship, the fight between good and evil, and the necessity of finding your own place in the galaxy.
The strengths Lucas brought to his films were the examination of family, the importance of friendship, the fight between good and evil, and the necessity of finding your own place in the galaxy. Abrams took those elements and presented them through a structure that combined characters from the 1977 offering with an entertaining and engaging group of new players. The same beautiful chemistry that actors like Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher brought to the middle trilogy has not lost a single bit of purpose or power in the latest film.
Seeing this movie is like going to a party made up of people you have known for years mixed in with an engaging group of new faces. No matter the mixture, the result is magical.
It was actually a more difficult task for Abrams to reboot the “Star Trek” franchise because he was saddled with re-presenting characters that had been well established for decades. With “The Force Awakens,” Abrams got to build a whole new universe on a base of returning favorites.
No character is stronger, though, than Rey (Daisy Ridley), the central player in the new story. “A New Hope” worked because Lucas invited the audience to see this galaxy far, far away through the youthful eyes of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). He was the conduit into this world of space people, places and things.
No character is stronger than Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is the central player in the story.
Ridley’s beautifully expressive face creates the same opening for the audience. With a single look, she can spark the emotional highs and lows that speed through the film like the Millennium Falcon activating its hyperdrive.
And Ridley’s not alone. John Boyega brings a boyish charm to his role as Finn, a former Stormtrooper turned Rey’s self-appointed protector. His eagerness and high spirits are constant sparks to the plot.
The film is loaded with great supporting players, including those turned in by Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, two men on different sides of the battle. Fans will never forget the performances by Driver and Isaac that add another wicked level of fun.
The comedic force was strong in “A New Hope,” an element Lucas used both well and poorly. Abrams has lightly seasoned “The Force Awakens” with humorous moments that are skillfully played to either set up some tension or break it.
Using comedy in a perfect amount, as in this movie, is a reminder to the audience that this is a film designed to be fun. Don’t spend extra time pondering the numerous “what if” moments that pop up, but instead just sit back and go on a ride that will be as much fun the 10th time as it is the first.
Don’t spend extra time pondering the numerous “what if” moments that pop up, but instead just sit back and go on a ride that will be as much fun the 10th time as it is the first.
Part of the credit for making the comedy work and creating a beautifully crafted plot goes to “The Force Awakens” co-writer Lawrence Kasdan. His background in penning the screenplays for “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” came in handy, from the witty banter to the continuation of the “Star Wars” mythology.
There is little that can be said about the story without giving away big spoilers. Be assured that everything from personal relations to the continuation of the “Star Wars” story line are done with great skill and detail. There are events that will spawn great debates, but that’s always been a plus of the better movies in the franchise.
The tiniest flaw in the film is that Kasdan and Abrams relied too much on “A New Hope” creating a lot of parallels. It’s only a small flaw because they were leaning on such a fan-loved story.
Adding to that joy is a bevy of new characters (guaranteed to break the bank of toy collectors) and special effects that take the groundbreaking work Lucas did in 1977 and crank it up 12 parsecs.
Taking on the challenge of relaunching the “Star Wars” franchise was a difficult challenge for Abrams. Even Lucas failed to find the same level of quality when he made “The Phantom Menace,” “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith.” Lucas was hampered by those movies being prequels, which by definition took away a lot of the tension and discovery.
Abrams had no such constraints. He’s taken that opening and built a movie that will satisfy die-hard fans and convert those new to this world. The “Force” is incredibly strong with this one.
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac
Director: J.J. Abrams
Rated PG-13 (peril, action, thematic elements)
Opens: Pre-screenings Thursday, Dec. 17; official opening Friday, Dec. 18