Fans sit in a darkened theater, dressed in an array of “Star Wars” apparel and intricate Jedi and Leia cosplay. A moment of silent tension, so thick you could cut it with a lightsaber, is shattered by loud cheers as an aged Han Solo boards the Millennium Falcon.
“Chewie, we’re home,” he says, and so are the fans.
Thirty-two years have passed since the original trilogy ended with “Return of the Jedi” and 10 since “Revenge of the Sith” ended the prequel trilogy, but “Star Wars” mania is as strong as ever. Since its announcement in 2012, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has been the subject of immense hype and record-breaking ticket presales. Three years later, fans are ready to see whether the film is worth its hype or just another money-grabbing disappointment preying on eager and excited fans.
Boy, was the wait worth it.
Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Abrams, Michael Arndt and “Star Wars” original trilogy writer Lawrence Kasdan, “The Force Awakens” soars as a fresh take on the Star Wars universe that remains faithful to its predecessors and crushes memories of George Lucas’ abysmal prequel trilogy (Jar Jar Binks, anyone?).
Set 30 years after “Return of the Jedi,” the seventh installation in the series wastes no time in establishing itself as a worthy member of the Star Wars canon. The opening title crawl reveals that Luke Skywalker is missing and a war between the sinister First Order and the Rebellion has replaced the conflict between the Empire and the Rebels. Drawing from the same World War II motifs that inspired Lucas, Abrams crafts a Nazi-like First Order well on its way to crushing the Rebellion.
While the original trilogy centered around the adventures of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Abrams establishes a new trio consisting of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), and Rey (Daisy Ridley). But the film’s greatest strength is its ability to successfully integrate the old with the new as Ford, Fisher, Hamill and other members of the original trilogy reprise their roles. It feels as if Abrams is priming fans to let go of the past and embrace the future, allowing this film to serve as a changing of the guard.
New characters mean new nuances and refreshing tweaks to the old formula. Dameron remains devoted to the rebel cause, Finn desperately tries to find safety as he flees his former life as a Storm Trooper and Rey desperately clings to her past in the hopes that she will be reunited with her family.
Besides the new trio, other characters either make appearances, such as Chewbacca and C-3PO, or are replaced with new counterparts. The droid BB-8 is a robotic ball of fun that takes the reigns from R2-D2 and is the updated version of the droid that fans are looking for, filled with more charm, heart and personality than its predecessor. The film’s new villain Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, professes his desire to walk in Darth Vader’s footsteps, but his inner demons and inferiority complex make him a fragile yet menacing foe. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) occupies the sinister, bonding presence once held by Emperor Palpatine. Even Yoda gets a counterpart in tiny, wise cantina owner Maz Kanata, voiced by Lupita Nyong’o.
“The Force Awakens” doesn’t offer new plot lines; it simply trudges forward but never stalls. The writers revisit familiar Star Wars tropes, such as giant space weapons, rescuing captured allies and intergalactic warfare. The film is neither boring nor stale, but is rather a return to form that follows the successful formula set up by “A New Hope,” bordering on becoming a direct remake rather than a sequel. Spending time on character development is exactly what Abrams’ team needed to avoid recreating a bumbling Jar Jar or insufferably whiny Anakin Skywalker and succeed in crafting new characters the audience can become invested in.
While the recycled story plods along, the film’s youthful energy, brought in by both its director and fresh cast, carries it through. The dizzying aerial dogfights are breathtakingly beautiful and exciting, while updated special effects grant blaster battles a heightened sense of danger. The film’s two lightsaber battles, though short, thrill through their ragged ferocity and capture the untapped potential and untrained nature of both heroes and villains.
After being haunted by the prequel trilogy, the Force has awoken to excited fans and indisputable success. Although Abrams is not currently slated to work on episodes eight or nine, the film is a worthy successor to the franchise that will satisfy both old and new Star Wars fans. It is a love letter to one of the most iconic film franchises and takes pain to get every detail right. It is a film that reminds the world why it loves Star Wars.
The Force is strong with this one.
– Matthew Fernandez