The long, long wait to return to a galaxy far, far away is mercifully over. Do not worry, fans of the rebel alliance. “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” delivers an effective mix of nostalgia and new storylines, leaving behind the silliness of the disastrous prequels. It honors the characters we all love while a new generation rises to carry on the eternal fight between the dark side and the light.
Disney pulled off a modern-day Christmas miracle keeping the plot of “The Force Awakens” almost completely unknown to audiences. My advice is to go with that novel approach to the movie: enter the theater with no spoilers and enjoy the experience of a completely unpredictable ride. From the first drumbeat of the pulse-quickening theme, accompanied by the familiar scroll of words describing the set-up, you’ll be learning new plot situations. It’s exciting.
A New Chapter to the Classic Story
I’ll try to keep that glorious ignorance by writing a spoiler-free review. As fans undoubtedly know, the film is set 30 years after the rebel victory in “Return of the Jedi.” It’s a big galaxy, however, and in the farthest reaches, rumors have spread about the epic war raging, but the day-to-day life of inhabitants centers on a scramble for survival. In one backwater planet, a girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley) sets out on a journey that will lead to the stars. She eventually crosses the path of Finn (John Boyega).
As an aside, the advertising has, I believe, inadvertently made it seem like the actions of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia have been forgotten and are the stuff of legend. This is a far smaller issue in the film than in the advertising. As I said, it’s a big galaxy and the glories of the past are remembered the way the average 19-year-old on the street in, say, Modesto, California, would remember, say, General George Patton: Distant, hazy, but revered if you’re a history buff.
Moreover, one of the greatest strengths in the film is the way it acts as a true sequel, involving the characters from the originals as more than just cameos, but as real characters whose lives have changed and evolved and who still have storylines to live out. So when Han Solo (the legendary Harrison Ford) says to Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) “We’re home” as they set foot on the Millennium Falcon, it’s not just a supreme moment of nostalgia, but the next chapter in his story.
The new characters, however, own the film equally with the old. Rey is an updated version of women in this particular universe, someone with enough fire and development to carry her story not only through this film but also beyond. She’s a modern girl who would rather wield a weapon than sit around in a golden bikini. My favorite new character, however, was probably Finn. His storyline is fresh and new, as is his personality. He’s funny, but in his own way; personable, but not as a trope.
Returning to the Epic Battle between Good and Evil
The film does have weaknesses. Depending on your passion for new material, some of the storyline may feel a tad bit repetitive from the original trilogy. The film does not do a deep dive into the theology of the Force and therefore feels less mystical and lighter than “The Empire Strikes Back.” But, on the plus side, there’s no embarrassing silliness such as he-who-must-not-be-named-named with the floppy ears-ears.
The new droid BB-8 is as cutesy as it gets, and he’s entirely likable, although how he avoids becoming bogged down by sand in his many crevices I’ll never know. It’s as if everyone decided to just pretend the prequels never happened and move on. If you’re hoping to learn more about intergalactic trade policy, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Satisfying action and respectable special effects bring the franchise up to date, but it’s always been about the heart. One of the times I choked up a little (and there were a few times), was seeing the plucky, brave rebels with their beat-up planes and can-do attitudes. Oscar Isaac puts in a good, brief turn as Po, an X-wing fighter pilot who never gives up. In the end, as it must in every generation, it comes down to epic themes: Fighting or running away, choosing light or choosing darkness, living to save one’s own skin or living for something bigger.
The movie has almost unheard-of levels of expectations riding on it and perhaps no film could ever meet that. But it is a thoroughly enjoyable flick that opens to doors to more films from this universe. Enjoy it, you will. It is your destiny.