“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh feature length film in this seminal sci-fi franchise, has the distinction of being the first of the series to be made without any involvement from the creator of the whole thing, George Lucas. And the irony is that director J.J. Abrams et. al. tried their absolute damnedest to make this movie feel as much like the original 1975 film as possible.
The story very simply involves an underground resistance group waging political (and actual) battles against a large evil force determined to take control of the whole galaxy. Some young rag tag folks meet up with an older wise man with a history against the bad guys, lead by a shadowy figure who communicates with his minions via hologram, one of whom is a fella dressed all in black with a black mask and a distorted voice whom every one else fears due to his Force powers. The rebels and the bad guys race against each other to get the same piece of information, which leads to a big space battle at the end involving a large planet-like space station slash world-destroying weapon. Also there is a stop at a cantina-like establishment filled with all sorts of aliens and creatures as well as a live band, and there are cute android antics.
This plot description 100% fits both “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and the original 1975 “Star Wars.” Not only is the plot structure the same for the two, but there are a number of plot developments and story elements that are pulled directly from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” and it is obvious that this movie traffics in the number one thing that sells in the movie marketplace today – nostalgia.
Not to say that this is a terrible thing, as anyone who has enjoyed the previous six “Star Wars” movies in any way will surely get some sort of positive reaction bubbling up inside of them when they see these beloved characters in familiar settings, with familiar banter and reactions. This movie showed me what it would be like to be surrounded by people who would cheer and applaud the reveal of an inanimate prop, which happened multiple times. To say these people were thirsty for a new “Star Wars” movie is an understatement, and the fact that this movie is actually pretty good must make so many people so happy, and good for them, they finally got something that we haven’t had in decades, an actual good movie featuring these characters and in this setting.
Not only does “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” traffic in this nostalgia of old characters, it also introduced a slew of new ones, designed to keep this now epic saga moving forward for years to come. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is pretty much the lead of the movie, though we spend just as much time with a young scavenger on a desert planet that might as well be Tatooine from the first film, a stormtrooper who turns against his evil overlords, and the best fighter pilot in the resistance, played respectively by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac. And on the dark side of the Force is some masked dude named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who wants to be the strongest and most evil bad jedi in the history of the jedi. And it is with these new characters played by these younger actors who will continue this journey in episodes 8 and 9, to be released in 2017 and 2019, because money.
There are a few moments throughout the movie that did suffer from some of the same problems that have plagued the other films of J.J. Abrams, like big coincidences driving the story forward, or a central mystery that is ultimately pretty unsatisfying, or the overabundance of fan service which kind of detracts from the original story. But mostly it seems that they get most of it right, meaning that the movie absolutely feels like it belong in this pantheon of films, and manages to be much better than the infamous prequel trilogy, and I would even say on initial viewing that movie is better than “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” Hell, any moment involving that ball droid BB-8 is better than anything that happens in “SW: ROTJ” with the exception of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader’s final fight. The action is well done and there is a lack of very noticeable CG, with only one sequence involving some very large and strange looking aliens having that modern fake computer look – the reliance on practical effects, miniatures and in camera effects goes a long way to making this movie feel like it fits along with those from the 1970s. Of course it helps, again, that we are working with some iconic images, like the distinctive sight and sounds of the space craft in this movie, which looks unlike any other movie because it is just “so Star Wars.” These are things that are ingrained in our culture and fortunately it has not been bastardized in any way in this film, as we can feel the same deep love and admiration for all of this stuff coming from the filmmakers that the people in the audience were feeling opening night.
Like the ultimate piece of fan fiction, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a solid entry in the new life cycle of the most popular film series in the world, and thank god everyone likes this one so much because we are going to be getting more of these every single year from here on out. Get your wallets ready.