Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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.”

Laura's Review: 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:

Robin's Review: B-

Well, it is finally over. Almost 30 years ago we were overwhelmed by the high tech thrills of the first Star Wars” film. Since that hallowed time the world has met with varying levels of success (or, not) with the two sequels and, now, with three prequels. The story comes full circle and we finally get to see the creation of Darth Vader and the birth of Luke and Leia in “Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith.” Here’s a challenge to the average movie-goer (fan boys of “Star Wars” franchise do not count): tell me what Episode 2” was about. And don’t go onto IMDB or Google to get a synopsis, either. That’s cheating. Give up? Me, too. For the life of me, I cannot remember what the middle prequel was about. I don’t know whether this is due to a mental block or that it was just so bad. Probably both. As such, I was less than thrilled with the prospect of yet another yawner with “Revenge of the Sith.” But, I had hopes. For one thing, we were finally going to get the payoff of seeing Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen, continuing his whining, annoying performance from Episode 2”) make the final transition – hooray! – into our beloved Darth Vader. It is almost worth the two-plus hours just for this. Then, there was the fleeting promise that one of my favorite Star Wars characters, Chewbacca, would make a return appearance. This part is, unfortunately, not worth the price of admission as his return is brief and we only get one or two of his Wookie roars. I always thought that George Lucas did the smart thing with “Episodes 5 & 6” by turning over helming duties to Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand, respectively. He still kept the writing choirs (unfortunately, especially for his terrible dialog) but had the sense to give the helm to other directors. Then came the near mind-numbing “Episodes 1 & 2.” I cringe when I think of Jake Lloyd painfully miscast as young Anakin and, need I say more, Jar Jar Binks. Both of which were in “Episode 1.” “Episode 2,” though, took the prize for numbing the mind and my prompted my aforementioned challenge. As expected in “Episode 3,” there is more of the same in the F/X department with futuristic cities buzzed by all manner of space ship. You also get Yoda (voice of Frank Oz), still one of the great visual effects in movies. Whining laser swords clash with their memorable electronic twang in the many fights between the Jedi and those given in to Dark Side. (Which brings me to an editorial note: why do you have to work so hard, in Lucas’s universe, to become a Jedi knight but can become a Sith Lord with a bad thought? Yeah, I know the arguments but which one would you choose? I know which way I would go but I just so happen to look good in black.) There are the preambles that foretell the future coming back around, 30 years later, to “Star Wars” with the X- and Tie-fighters shown in earlier forms, the beginnings of the Death Star and the coming of powerful Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid). It’s all kind of like comfort food as “Episode 3” finally brings you back “to a galaxy far, far away” that we first met nearly three decades ago. The vast cast of characters is, as usual, hampered by the stilted dialogue that is so typical of George Lucas. Ewan McGregor has finally captured the charm, even if just a little bit, that Alec Guiness gave to Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars.” The rest – including Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Natalie Portman, Anthony Daniels (reprising C3PO) and Jimmy Smits – are given nothing to do but go through their respective motions. Hayden Christensen is wooden, at best, as Anakin. From the sheer volume of F/X shots it is obvious that much of the action is in front of blue screen, and it shows. The special F/X are, as expected, top-of-the-line, most of which we’ve seen from Lucas before but with one or two new things. (Check it out when Obi-Wan has to ride an other-worldly “steed” into combat.) The fans won’t be disappointed (they are such an easy lot) and Lucas’s detractors (like me) will give him some slack.