Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

It has been 30 years since Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca and their loyal ‘droids C3PO and R2D2 helped to save a galaxy far, far away from evil. But, the Galactic Empire is not yet finished and the adventurers are joined by a new breed of Jedi to fight the totalitarian First Order in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Fans of all ages have been drooling over the upcoming world event that is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and I do not think they will be disappointed. Director J.J. Abrams, who co-wrote the film’s script with Lawrence Kasdan, was responsible for the successful reboot of the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009. The helmer is now standing at the gate of another reboot success that will likely be the most lucrative entry in the “Star Wars” franchise to date. (Box office is expected to exceed $1 billion in just a couple of weeks.”

The story holds many ties to the 1977 original. Another Death Star threatens the galaxy and it is up to a single innocent warrior-to-be to restore the Rebel Cause and defeat the First Order and its designs to dominate the galaxy with the force of evil. “SW: TFA” opens much as the original did – Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) has a very important piece of information that he hides in his little ‘droid, BB8, as they try to escape the clutches of gone-over-to-dark side Jedi, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe is joined by Imperial Storm Trooper turned deserter, whom Poe dubs Finn (John Boyega).

Cut to young Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley), an orphan who ekes out an existence scrounging on a barren desert planet. She crosses paths with Finn and they form a fragile alliance to get the little ‘droid to the Rebel Alliance and find….. That is as much as I will say about the new “Star Wars” story. Let the fans find out for themselves.

As I said, there is much of the old “Star Wars” in the new, but, with a budget that probably equals that of the total of the previous six episodes combined, there is a lot of money up there on the screen. (The film will be shown at theaters in 2D, IMAX and IMAX 3D – I saw it in plain old 2D and did not mind at all, though I would have liked to see it in IMAX.) The filmmakers relied more heavily on real location and the use of miniatures for the space action and less on green screen and CGI, giving “SW: TFA” a feel reminiscent of the original and not at all with the last three. This is a good thing.

The promise of the return of our beloved characters from the first films - Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess-turned-General Leia (Carrie Fischer), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2D2 (Kenny Baker) all return from the Episodes IV thru VI – is well met by Abrams and company. But, the new characters, especially Ridley’s Rey, are well developed too, allowing the actors to really fill their roles and flesh out the characters.

There are some problems with “SW: TFA,” particularly the character Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Sirkis), a giant holograph figure that reminds of Voldemort but more dumb than scary. But, this and other problems will not even be noticed by the legion of fans, both old and new, as they take pleasure in satisfying the long wait. Obviously, it helps to know the old characters, but Han, Luke and the rest are cultural legends that even the young new fans will know about. I give it a B+

Decades after the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, the Dark Side has rerisen as the First Order under Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) who has tasked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) with destroying the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Meanwhile Princess-now-General of the Resistance Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent her best pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to Jakku where he receives a map of Skywalker's whereabouts from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow) just as Kylo Ren arrives with a battalion of stormtroopers. Poe plants the map with his trusty BB-8 droid and the First Order will be surprised by just where their strongest foes spring from in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Cowriter (with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt)/director J.J. Abrams ("Super 8," Star Trek Into Darkness") resuscitates the series far more in keeping with the original trilogy than their creator George Lucas did with episodes I-III.  The Saturday morning serial feel is back, complete with smoke dissolves and iris wipes, the story introducing the new while honoring the old, often at one and the same time.  The new cast does not disappoint, especially Daisy Ridley as the plucky scavenger Rey.

After Poe is captured by Kylo Ren, we're introduced to Rey, scavenging scrap for food allotments.  She has never left Jakku since she was left there as a young girl and still awaits the return of her family.  She spies and rescues BB-8 before a less scrupulous competitor can junk the droid for scrap.  On board the Star Destroyer, troubled stormtrooper FN2187 (John Boyega, "Attack the Block"), who refused to shoot Jakku villagers when Poe was taken, makes a fateful move, springing Poe.  The two make an escape on board a starfighter, but are hit and crash land on Jakku.  FN2187, dubbed Finn by Poe, comes to alone and makes his way towards a town where he spies Rey and BB-8.  The little droid panics, recognizing Finn's jacket as his master's, and Finn's attempt at explanation leads Rey to conclude he's a rebel fighter.  Finn lets her assumption stand.  With the First Order on their tail for BB-8's precious cargo, Finn makes his second escape of the day with Rey forced to pilot the only vehicle available, something she disparagingly calls garbage, the Millennium Falcon.

The story reflects the original episodes in many ways from its reluctant heroes, troubled villains, conflicted fathers and sons, mysterious parentage, droids carrying holographic information and, of course, the Force.  There are several callbacks to the original, like an appearance of the Dejarik game and the Mos Eisley Cantina now Maz Kanata's (voice of Lupita Nyong'o). The intervening years since we last saw Luke, Leia and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) are sketched in without dropping a beat in the action.  And while they may have aged, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) shows no gray hairs even if the actor inside the suit is now in his 70's (Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels also return to give life to R2-D2 and C-3PO).

Although the science fiction epic relies on special effects, Abrams hasn't delivered a CGI hodgepodge.  The film has an organic feel, from Jakku's desert landscape, beautifully accented in Rey's costuming, to the space battling starships. There are a few nits to pick.  The film's first scene feels very set bound, but our awareness of watching a movie is quickly dispelled.  When Finn draws out a lightsaber, those formerly shooting at him stop for one of their own to commence swordplay.  And while current technology makes for much more eye popping creatures, the decision to make Snoke a giant is weird.  Snoke looks more like a character from the Harry Potter series (even the name sounds Potterish), but he looks less intimidating than Voldemort. Like the film, John Williams' score is both familiar and new, a rousing accompaniment with new themes for new characters.  Sound design is top notch.

There are many genuinely moving moments here and Harrison Ford can still toss off a line ('You changed your hair') with roguish swagger.  Fans should not be disappointed. It's the movie we've been expecting.  Better yet, it's the production we've been hoping for.

Grade:  B+
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