We’ve waited 32 years for this. Star Wars: The Force Awakens concerns the continuing epic battle between the Galactic Empire, a fallen government now called the First Order, and the Resistance, which now supports the New Republic, the political system presently in power. If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a little refresher. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was part of the Rebel Alliance that opposed the Empire, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), also an agent of the rebellion, is now General Leia Organa. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the Jedi Master that supported them both. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
The great thing about this current tale is that the story features those three in key roles. The emergence of each inspiring gasps of recognition with the dramatic unveiling of each one. Such is the joy of this production. The Force Awakens arrives in an atmosphere of intense scrutiny and unrealistic hopes. Director J.J. Abrams pays homage to the original trilogy in a crowd pleasing wham bam pow of a film. The saga stands on its own, but for those who can remember what it was like to watch that original 1977 movie, in a drive-in no less, the experience is a childhood catharsis. The Force Awakens doesn’t tread new ground, nor does it introduce plot points that innovate. What it does do is meet expectations in a way that that honors the past, while still providing enough novelty to make the adventure worthwhile. The “it’s just a movie” aesthetic flies in the face of those hard core enthusiasts that demand more, but if you’re open to its obvious charms, you will adore this flick.
The contemporary story interweaves those characters from the past into a fresh tale. This one features Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku, who discovers an important droid, BB-8, at a junkyard. There’s also Finn (John Boyega), a reformed stormtrooper, who wants to help the the Resistance crush the First Order. Lupita Nyong’o does motion capture work as Maz Kanata, a wise old sage, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is an X-wing fighter pilot. On the opposing side there’s a powerful Jedi named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is more aligned with the Dark Side. Comparisons of Kylo Ren, Rey, Finn, Poe, Maz and BB-8, to previous incarnations of Star Wars characters are purely intentional I’m sure. That doesn’t make them any less compelling. As long as they can provoke our interest that is…and they do.
The Force Awakens takes its time to get started, but once it does, its evocation of the past is a delight. The script presents a warm, sometimes sad, and often funny story that arouses our emotion due to its familiarity. The story is straightforward, almost simplistic in its desire not to muddle a narrative that is refreshingly uncomplicated. Even the visuals rely less on green screen technology and more on organic practical effects. Only a CGI heavy called the Supreme Leader feels fake. The screenplay is by respected veteran Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as J. J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, Super 8) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3). The unveiling of a recognizable broken down old spacecraft shouldn’t bring tears to an adult man, but I’m embarrassed to admit it does. Or consider John Williams’ iconic score that blasts over the opening crawl. Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2? Yup they’re all here. The recognition is what sells the picture. This is satisfying nostalgia pure and simple. Sure wrapping up a present in a bright shiny package with a big red bow isn’t innovative, but gosh darn it, it sure is appealing, and that’s exactly what I love about this film.