When the opening crawl to Star Wars: The Force Awakens failed to contain anything about trade disputes or embargoes many a Star Wars fan breathed a sigh of relief. With George Lucas stepping down and uber Star Wars fan J.J. Abrams moving in we could only pray the direction in quality would go up from the much maligned prequels. Even though I am not fan of what Abrams did with the Star Trek franchise, I really hated his Star Trek: Into Darkness, I went into the theatre pessimistically optimistic because Abrams had stated he was more a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek one, plus when you add to the fact that one of The Force Awakens screenwriters is Lawrence Kasdan who wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, which is arguably the best in the series, I had every reason for some hope. But could this mixture of new and old blood bring back the fun and excitement that made up a good portion of my childhood? In short, the answer is yes.
The biggest criticism that could be leveled at Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that it may be too much of a love letter to the original Star Wars: A New Hope. Structurally speaking the film follows the narrative of the 1977 original rather closely with a few roles shifted around and of course an addition or two. In that opening crawl we learn that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing, which has allowed a new military power called The First Order to fill the void the Empire left when Palpatine and Vader died, and now everyone is looking for Luke to either get his help or ensure he never returns.
The first new character we meet is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a badass resistance pilot given the important mission of retrieving a map to the possible location of Luke Skywalker. I wonder if any Bothan spies paid with their lives for that bit of info? Poe’s mission is sidelined by the arrival of First Order soldiers and the evil Klyo Ren (Adam Driver), who is clearly a student of the Dark Side of The Force. The First Order use the slash and burn technique for their searching and so Poe is forced to entrust the information to his BB-8 droid while he tries to take on Kylo Ren. The droid crosses endless tracks of desert before he encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman stuck on this desert wasteland who is dreaming of the stars. Sound familiar? Make Poe a princess and Rey a moisture farmer and you’ve basically got the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope.
What is really interesting in this “totally not a remake of A New Hope” is that the character of Luke Skywalker hasn’t just been replaced by a girl, but by a girl and a boy. During the First Order attack we meet a Stormtrooper who doesn’t seem all that keen on the slaughtering of the innocent, and he decides to make with a permanent leave of absence from the First Order. It is this character of Finn (John Boyega) that steps in to be the audience identification character that Luke Skywalker was back in A New Hope, while Rey is a bit like Luke from A New Hope she has a lot more going on under the hood than that long ago farm boy had. So she closer to what he became in The Empire Strikes Back than the naive boy he started out as.
This is what makes me love this film. Rey is not a damsel in distress, sure Princes Leia (Carrie Fisher) was a spunky spitfire of a heroine back in the day, but compared to Rey she may as well have tired herself to some train tracks and waited for Dudley Doright. As good as this film’s ensemble cast is, and it is quite excellent, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are the heart of this film. It may be nice to see Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) again but it’s Ridley and Boyega, plus Adam Driver as the Klyo Ren, that do the real heavy lifting here. Star Wars: The Force Awakens really feels like the old guard passing the torch to the new.
Another plus this movie has going for it is in the relationship that develops between Rey and Finn, which is just about pitch perfect; him the awkward ex-Stormtrooper and her the girl without a past. They are so much fun to watch as they flee together from constant danger. “Psst look, they are holding hands again.”
I don’t want to get into any dangerous spoiler territory so I will leave off with saying that if you are a fan of the original trilogy, as clearly J.J. Abrams was, then you will get a kick out of this. I’m not saying it is a perfect movie; there is a moment with two CGI monsters that should have been left on the cutting room floor and the plot certainly won’t be accused of abundant originality, but with John Williams’ fantastic score, a villain with some serious anger issues, good comedy (ie no Jar Jar Binks), some of the most spectacular action sequences you will ever see, and a cast of great heroes new and old for us to cheer for, you will most likely find yourself with a Cheshire Cat sized grin plastered on your face for the duration of this movie.