"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2015
Running Time: 136 minutes
With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams brings back the humanity to a franchise that suffered dearly from its now-absent creator’s growing obsession with technology and wanton disregard for acting, story, and character development. The result: The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars offering since The Empire Strike Back, one that combines the lightness and simplicity of Star Wars with the emotional resonance of The Empire Strike Back. This is a classic tale of good vs. evil, with new and original cast members uniting to fight a new threat in the Empire’s successor, the First Order. In terms of execution, it seems Abrams isn’t so much channeling the George Lucas of Star Wars but the Irvin Kershner of The Empire Strikes Back. It also works to Abrams’ advantage that one of his co-screenwriters is Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Kasdan brings to The Force Awakens knowledge and experience, and it makes you wonder how much better the derided prequel trilogy would have been had Lucas recruited Kasdan as a writing partner. It’s a trap, though, to overly praise The Force Awaken simply because it’s not The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. Without giving too much away, The Force Awakens borrows so heavily from Star Wars that there are times when The Force Awakens feels more like a soft reboot than the opening chapter in a new trilogy—or, at the very least, an excuse for Abrams to take a nostalgia trip. There’s also a big reveal early in A Force Awaken—one that informs everything that follows—that is handled by Abrams in the same clumsy, anti-climatic fashion as his Star Trek: Into Darkness unmasking of Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. These aren’t minor quips about The Force Awakens, because there are times when Abrams struggles to give the film its own voice, but they are not enough to ruin this return to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. If the opening crawl of The Force Awakens doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, the first appearance of Harrison Ford as Han Solo on the deck of the Millennium Falcon will. Ford is as delightfully roguish as ever as Solo, but he balances his smuggler’s trademark dry wit with a melancholy that is born from the unseen tragic events that followed Return of the Jedi. The Force Awaken is driven by Solo’s desire to undo the past, and do right by Carrie Fisher’s now-General Leia Organa, as it by its new characters’ fight against the First Order. Solo and his trusty sidekick Chewbacca join forces with Daisy Ridley’s desert planet scavenger Rey and John Boyega’s renegade First Order stormtrooper Finn to deliver important information about Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker to his sister Leia and to the Resistance. The First Order is in hot pursuit, led by Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Adam Driver’s Darth Vader-ish Kylo Ren. The fate of the galaxy, of course, is on the line. Ridley and Boyega bring an infectious exuberance to The Force Awakens that suggests they still can’t believe they are in a Star Wars film and are charged with carrying this new trilogy. Resolute and steadfast, Ridley imbues Rey with an old soul that’s in perfect contrast to the inner demons that holds hostage Boyega’s reluctant hero. Finn wants nothing to do with the bloodshed that’s all around him, but Boyega ably brings to the surface the desire for redemption that motivates this former minion. Oscar Isaac also makes an appearance as Poe Dameron, a Resistance flyboy with a bit of Han Solo in him but not enough to make him a cynic. Conversely, Driver is The Force Awaken’s weak link. He’s as badly cast as Hayden Christensen was in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Granted, Kylo Ren isn’t your standard Star Wars villain for reasons that cannot be stated here. But he is supposed to feared by those all around him. Helmet on or helemt off, Driver isn’t very menacing as Ren. He’s more like a whiny hipster prone to crying fits and/or violent outbursts when the pressure of enslaving the galaxy gets to him. The next two chapters in this new trilogy could suffer if Ren remains a focal point. Not that this is going to be Abrams’ problem. He’s already handed over 2017’s Episode XIII to Looper’s Rian Johnson and 2019’s Episode IX to Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow. But Abrams has done what he was charged with doing: giving us an old-school Star Wars that, even if it seems too familiar for its own good, captures the thrill and the magic of the original trilogy.
Aired: Dec. 17, 2015
Web site: http://www.starwars.com/