Remember all the hype surrounding the first “Star Wars” prequel “The Phantom Menace” in 1999? So much anticipation, but then something awful happened. And three years later, “Attack of the Clones” only proved that “Episode I” wasn’t an accident but terrible by design.
Jump forward a decade. Sure, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was marketed well, but merchandise overload might make any Jedi wannabe question whether Disney doth protest too much. After all, we’ve been hurt before.
The pieces are all there. Top-notch director J.J. Abrams, a man so perfect for the job he might’ve made his last two films, both “Star Treks,” a little too much like those films set in a “galaxy far, far away.” The powers that be even cast some promising young stars. Still, this much hype can lead to something dull or brain-dead, like “Jurassic World.”
Everyone wanted to believe. With $100 million in pre-sale tickets, an unprecedented record and plans for a “Star Wars” film every year or so in the near future, George Lucas’ greatest cinematic achievement isn’t going anywhere despite the bemoaning of plenty of scruffy-looking, nerf-herding critics.
Breathe easy my fellow Rebels, for your faith is not in vain. Disney might have a cash cow they plan to milk until only the husk of a withered carcass remains, but in the meantime, Abrams finally created the “Star Wars” we’ve needed for more than 30 years.
“The Force Awakens” borrows much from “A New Hope.” The Deathstar is now the Starkiller base that destroys entire planetary systems. We have a new robot, BB-8, that flees villains, stumbling into our protagonist’s possession, who then must help get vital information to the Resistance. But in place of Luke (Mark Hamill) on a desert planet, meet Rey (Daisy Ridley), who also wishes she knew her parents. She passes the time collecting scraps of downed ships from past wars with the Empire.
As for other characters, there’s Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who is tasked with a special mission to acquire a map to Luke’s location. The last Jedi in the galaxy has been in hiding for some time, but sister Leia (Carrie Fisher), leader of the Resistance, seeks to bring him home.
But Poe isn’t alone in his quest. The First Order, which rose from the Empire’s ashes, wants to find Luke first to destroy the last remaining remnants of the light side of the Force. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), so desperate to follow in Darth Vader’s footsteps in appearance and power lust, leads the search for Luke.
One other new player arrives from a different path than any other character in the “Star Wars” film universe: Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper who can’t bring himself to kill for the First Order. For the first time in the series, we hear talk of reconditioning and how stormtroopers are molded from birth.
In some ways, Abrams shamelessly reminds us of the original film. When Rey asks if the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) quickly corrects her, saying 12. Trust me, that’s far from all. The film structure is virtually the same, but how can anyone fault an action adventure for that? After all, “Star Wars: A New Hope” set the standard for the three-act structure still taught in screenwriting classes.
Despite similarities, “The Force Awakens” knows how to add to the universe. Come the first trailer, plenty of people noted a more diverse cast, particularly what seemed to be a woman in the lead role and a black stormtrooper. Some even took to social media accusing the film of a social justice agenda, as one National Review writer said. If there was an intentional choice to make this narrative world more diverse, good for them. It makes more sense that a galaxy would have more than just white men running things.
As for all the black stormtrooper talk, naive racism would be cute if it weren’t so tragic. And Boyega deserves all the praise coming his way. He ruled the day in a previous horror thriller, “Attack the Block,” and he’s sensational here.
As for our leading protagonist, Ridley is a wonderfully complex character. She’s relatively new to cinema – not British television though – but she’s sure to make the rounds now. Until then, her character is primed for another adventure in “Star Wars VIII.” Don’t watch “The Force Awakens” expecting a satisfying ending.
As fun as the film is, it’s but a sample of things to come. The film title might mean something to the story, but it more so serves as a reminder to the public that one of the greatest sci-fi/fantasy tales is far from asleep.
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