Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Posted by Joel Copling on December 17, 2015

The old guard and the new collide in exciting ways throughout "Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens," a thunderous return to the galaxy far, far away that tackles what could have been mere fan service as, instead, a study of the past folding over on itself. A lot of the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt, and director J.J. Abrams mirrors the events of 1977's "A New Hope" and 1980's "The Empire Strikes Back" in the way that certain beats (the transfer of information to a humanoid source, a climax involving the infiltration of an enormous space station) and certain revelations (involving parentage) are mirrored. It doesn't matter. This is a movie about generational divide, about the sins of a father revisited upon a son, about how this long-standing conflict has an effect upon a new set of characters, and about what that effect is.

What transpired before is now a story told to young children about the Jedi, the Sith, and the overthrow of the Galactic Empire by the Rebellion. Rey (Daisy Ridley), one of those children, is a plucky go-getter just like Luke was. Abandoned on a desert planet (this one called Jakku) as a child and now working as a scavenger for food, she wants more out of life. This arrives in the form of BB-8, a droid who quite literally rolls into Rey's life with a mission hidden in one of its compartments: The thing inside is a map with directions straight to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has been long in hiding under mysterious circumstances.

The map must be delivered to Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Luke's sister, who is now a general in the resistance against the Third Reich-esque First Order, a new version of the Empire led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, as usual through motion-capture). Leia has sent the best fighter pilot in the galaxy, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to retrieve the information from the oasis villages of the desert planet. In the process, Poe is captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Snoke's masked right-hand man, and subsequently rescued by a stormtrooper (John Boyega) whose growth of a conscience coincides with his own disillusionment of the First Order.

Poe and the stormtrooper (named Finn because the first two letters of his identification number are 'f' and 'n') become separated trying to return to Jakku, and Finn teams up with Rey and BB-8 to get the heck out of dodge when stormtroopers arrive and destroy the village. Their escape transportation is none other than the Millennium Falcon, which catches the eye of its old owner Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his trusty sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). They join forces to find Luke and Kylo Ren (Han has personal reasons to seek both). All the while, the First Order has crafted yet another answer to the Death Star. The kicker is that this new one makes the old one look like a marble in comparison.

This is all of the plot that will be revealed, largely because much of the film's impact comes from the payoff of the various threads. Small details underwhelm (Isaac is quite good in the role, but Poe disappears for large chunks of the running time and is barely used in the third act, while perhaps the biggest reveal of the movie is a bit too underplayed to reach its desired gasp of surprise), but this is truly thrilling stuff when it comes to its set pieces, such as a breathless chase among the sandy dunes of Jakku or an exhausting duel involving those beloved lightsabers (Kylo Ren's has a crossguard-type hilt feature, which certainly comes in handy for defense purposes).

As for the actors, Ford and Fisher fit back into their iconic roles like a glove, especially gaining mileage out of their shared conversations regarding how their fractured relationship has been evolving after a number of years apart. Ridley and Boyega share immediate chemistry as the two newcomers to this quest searching for their roles in this story. On the Dark Side, Serkis is intimidating as Snoke, and Domnhall Gleeson does one heck of an Adolf Hitler impersonation as the imposing General Hux, but the real story is Driver, whose reading of Kylo Ren as a soul tortured by both sides of the Force is fascinating and unnerving.

As the film shifts into its third act, some familiarity sets in as we realize that the film will openly mirror that which came before. But by the time the closing shot is reached--a pair of close-ups on faces that speak volumes about the characters they belong to--it doesn't remotely have a negative impact on the final product. Instead it reinforces the sense that this upcoming trilogy (with episodes eight and nine releasing in 2017 and 2019) will have something new to say about the familiar. It's not only a promising start; it's a rip-roaring, highly successful return to a beloved series. It also just happens to be one of the best films of 2015.

Film Information

Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Domnhall Gleeson (General Hux), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Max von Sydow (Lor San Tekka), Warwick Davis (Wollivan), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker).

Directed by J.J. Abrams and written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt.

Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action violence).

136 minutes.

Released on December 18, 2015.