Star Wars: The Force Awakens,
directed by J.J. Abrams
(Walt Disney Studios, 2015)

Taking on Star Wars is, needless to say, taking on quite a lot. Something very precious has been handed over to director and screenwriter J.J. Abrams, something that has to be returned to the audience and fans unscathed and undamaged. It's clear that Abrams was chosen for this task because of his success with the rebooting of the Star Trek franchise.

Abrams is able to rekindle much of the joy surrounding the first series with The Force Awakens. He does this by sticking to predictable, safe storytelling and stunning visuals. He understands the franchise and what works well within it, and his controlled, somewhat predictable methods keep things comforting and familiar.

The Skywalker family drama continues. Some 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new enemy -- in the form of the First Order, led by the sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) -- has become a menace to peace and justice throughout the galaxy. The disappearance of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has affected, and not for the better, the ability of the Resistance to halt the advance of the First Order in a galaxy-wide battle. Former princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), now a commanding general of the Resistance, knows that their only hope is her twin brother. She sends crack pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to track down Luke's whereabouts. His quest leads him to a small settlement on the remote desert planet of Jakku, where he finds an important clue in the form of a map.

Ren is also obsessed with finding Luke. His devastating arrival on Jakku forces Dameron to hide the map in his droid, BB-8 and send it away from the planet.

Caught up in this struggle is Finn (John Boyega), a disillusioned stormtrooper who is unable to deal with the First Order's violent mission and abandons his outfit. He joins up with lone scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is on a mission of her own: to keep BB-8 from falling into enemy hands. Similarities pile on top of similarities as the First Order reveals its planet-destroying weapon in a most horrific way, X-wing battles break out and lightsaber duels are a light-show unto themselves.

Yes, The Force Awakens is very like the plot of the first movie. But it's still a great blend of action, humor and the feeling that we could do worse than evoke the spirit of a previous, more innocent time. It's got all the well-known archetypes from the previous series, from cute robots to scary aliens in black masks (even a Cantina scene), but it also has great performances, most especially from Daisy Ridley's fiery Rey and the magnetic Adam Driver. There are many thrilling, even beautiful moments. Much of the classic cast is reintroduced. Everyone's favorite scoundrel, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has an important role. The snappy banter is alive and well. John Williams' highly emotive score beautifully reflects each character's personality and internal conflicts.

The Force Awakens might look and sound familiar, yet it somehow doesn't. New twists and updated, newer characters keep the plotline from feeling overdone. It's truly the beginning of a completely new adventure. Abrams passes his entry into the most beloved space opera of all time with flying colors.

review by
Mary Harvey

30 April 2016

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