Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the type of movie George Lucas should have made back in 1999, instead of torturing us with Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. After three appalling followups to the original trilogy, and after Lucas sold everything to Disney for 4 billion in 2012, new director J.J. Abrams has injected life back into the Star Wars universe. Original cast members Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), join three new engaging characters, Rey (Daisy Didley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
The story is set 30 years after the events of the first Star Wars trilogy. Rey is a scavenger on a desert planet who stumbles across a wandering droid. The droid is in possession of a map that points to the location of Luke Skywalker, a now legendary missing Jedi. While Luke has been hiding, a new darkness called the First Order has risen in place of the ruins of the old Empire. The First Order is lead by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a masked, heavy breather (think Darth Vader), with a mysterious past.
The third new lead is Finn, a storm trooper gone rogue. He has broken his imperial conditioning and stumbles into Rey after escaping with a resistance fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). When Rey and Finn meet up with Chewie and Hans on the Millennium Falcon, the film kicks into high gear.
The new leads are great, but it’s the magic of Harrison Ford as Hans Solo that steals the show. With a welcome sly sneer and dry humor, its quite possible the film would only have been half as good without him.
Fortunately the actors that play Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren are all excellent and possess real chemistry. Fortunately too, there are no awful love scenes, no scenes jam packed with crazy, inappropriate special effects, and the lightsaber duels this time round look compelling, rather than pure, comic book fantasy. The pace is perfect and the scenery spectacular. The ruins of the old imperial star cruisers are particularly awe inspiring. The storm trooper battles are powerful. This is a film you should definitely watch on the big screen, preferably at IMAX in 3D.
What did let it all down however were the many similarities to the first Star Wars film, Star Wars: I: – A new hope. Writers J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt clearly wanted to reboot the universe by going back to its roots, but at times overdo it. The threat this time round is a new crazy super weapon (Starkiller Base), identical to the old Death Star but larger. If you’ve watched the first film, you already know how its destroyed and can guess the planets it will be targeting. The scene where they gather round a display to discuss how to disable this new super weapon is the worst in the film.
Still, even with these and other lazy plot points – direct steals from the original films – Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is exactly what fans of the Star Wars universe have been looking for. George Lucas’ second trilogy can now become a distant memory.
There’s a lot more on the way too. Disney appears to be gearing up to release a new Star Wars film annually for the next ten years, starting with Star Wars: Rouge One in December 2016 and Star Wars VIII in 2017.