An Old Foe With A New Name: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, many people (including me) saw the first Star Wars movie (even though we all eventually learned we were seeing the fourth chapter first) on the big screen during its initial theatrical run. Back in the day, creator George Lucas spoke of a series of three trilogies, but that seemed a longshot because of the sixteen-year break between the first and second series of trilogies. Another ten years followed before director/producer J. J. Abrams received the green light to make the third series of three pictures. The third series begins with the seventh installment (and actual seventh chapter), The Force Awakens. At the onset, viewers learn of the disappeance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Both the First Order, who continue the legacy of the Empire, and the Resistance want to find the Jedi master. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a leading warrior of the First Order, comes to Jakku with an army of stormtroopers in search of evidence about Skywalker's location. A key piece of evidence is there, but before they can get it, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has place it inside a BB-8 robot, who scurries away from the battle that ensues. Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) apprehend Poe, but he resists Ren's efforts to give up BB-8. The droid makes its way to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who resists selling the droid for a generous offer of food. Instead, she decides to get the droid to its rightful owner.
She gets help in the quest from FN2187 (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who does the unexpected in battle. Even more unexpectedly, he breaks Poe from custody and steals a fighter, which they crash land on Jakku. Believing Poe dead from the landing, Finn, as Poe renamed him, finds his way to Rey and BB-8. As the battle heads their way, they take a bigger spacecraft to escape the planet. Soon, they are captured by an even bigger craft they fear might be one from the First Order. Instead, they meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who remain in the smuggling business. They have reclaimed the craft, which Rey and Finn learn is the famed Millennium Falcon. Han and Chewie get them to Resistance ally Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), who can get BB-8 into the hands of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). While the meeting with General Organa happens, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) wants a status report from Ren and Hux on the weaponry the First Order plans to use from their Starkiller base. Ren and Finn start to learn that they are better fighters than they realized as Leia and Han devise a plot to confront Ren.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is better than any of the Chapter I -III installments. That said, though, I found that The Force Awakens had a lot of similarities to A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie viewers got the chance to see. The First Order wants universal domination, the Resistance wants to stop the Empire under its new name, and the Force is still a part of both sides. The Force Awakens benefits from the presence of Ford, Fisher, and Hamill, who don't seem like they've been away from the franchise in over thirty years. They certainly bring the series more appeal than Hayden Christensen, Jake Lloyd, or Ahmed Best ever did. Han, Leia, and Luke bring the energy that Chapters I - III pretty much failed to do. While Abrams didn't follow the Lucas blueprint for the continuation of the saga, Abrams certainly captured its spirit. The action sequences definitely look familiar, but the conflict between the opponents remains exciting. Some parts of this movie seemed superfluous, such as the joking references to the other movies, or Finn's revelation of his job duties on Starkiller. The Force Awakens, though, is better than most seventh films in any series.
The main actors making their debut here complement the classic cast. Ridley gives a strong performance as Rey, a young woman with strong survival skills, as well as a strong sense of right and wrong. She knows BB-8 has something important, so she puts her interests aside for the droid. Her life had already made Rey a fighter, but her adventure shows she has even more fight in her. Boyega also delivers a fine performance as Finn, a stormtrooper who doesn't necessarily follow orders, and isn't always an efficient warrior for the First Order, as he disobeys a kill order when he sees a fellow trooper die. He also finds allies who bring out his willingness to fight in Poe and Rey. Finn also has inside information about Starkiller he's willing to share. Driver embraces the legacy of Darth Vader as he channels the dark side of the Force as Ren. Like Vader, Kylo dons a mask, but for a different reason. He's not as imposing as Vader, but he certainly shows the same effectiveness that his predecessor did. Isaac, Gleeson, Nyong'o, and Serkis impress in smaller roles. Max Von Sydow appears briefly as Lor San Tekka, an ally of Poe and the Resistance, as does Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, the First Order leader of Finn. In addition to Mayhew and the other returning cast, both Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker return to contribute their talents to the droids C3PO and R2D2, respectively. Ewan McGregor also makes a cameo as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the dream sequence of one character.
The Star Wars saga has been a long journey for those who have followed it from the beginning. The Force Awakens shows that the series still has life in it. The recycling and the nostalgia reveal themselves at times, but I'm glad the movie didn't obsess over those elements. The Force Awakens brings the battle between good and evil to another generation, while showing the heroes of the previous generation reacting to the ongoing fight in different ways. The Force still calls to those who have it, while others learn how to use this mysterious power to their advantage. Both sides, though, need to use this power to bring those who know nothing of it as they fight to determine the fate of the worlds in their galaxy.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3.5. Another new hope learns the ways of the Force.