Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Justin’s rating: CAUTION — keep laser swords pointed away from your eyes and chubby digits at all times

Justin’s review: When Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005, I was pretty much done with George Lucas’ vision of Star Wars. The prequels were dull, wooden affairs that did little to recapture the movie magic of the original trilogy, and I kind of felt like it was time for me to move on from being a fan of the franchise. But then Lucas sold the IP to Disney for all the money in the universe, and Disney hired J.J. Abrams to work on starting a new trilogy that would bring a fresh, new take on adventures in a galaxy far, far away. Gradually, I felt my interest and hype return, and when The Force Awakens released, I was giddy to grab my two oldest kids and give Star Wars another chance.

By and large, I wasn’t disappointed. The Force Awakens did a lot of things right in reviving the film series: It bridged the old films and the new, it had a spirit of adventure and fun, it was riddled with tons of great quotes, and it gave us a band of brand-new characters that were genuinely likable.

The Force Awakens takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi, but you would think it’s still right around A New Hope with the state of the galaxy. There’s still the Empire (now called The First Order), there’s still a Death Star (now Starkiller Base), there’s still the Rebels (now The Resistance), and there’s still Han, Chewie, Leia, Luke, C3PO, and R2D2 puttering around the old folks home muttering about “bad feelings” and “laugh it up, fuzzball.” For reasons that are completely unexplained in this or the subsequent movies, the Empire never really did collapse after Death Star II’s destruction and the Emperor’s death, and the new Republic doesn’t seem to field any sort of armed forces to protect itself. So it’s up to the scrappy outcasts to do the heavy lifting.

Joining the Scooby squad this time around is Rey, an orphaned girl who is a brilliant mechanic/ship pilot/lightsaber duelist who might have a touch of the Force in her; BB-8, a droid that rolls and gives thumbs-up; Finn, a disillusioned Stormtrooper who defects to the Resistance; and Poe, a hotshot pilot who, um, shoots things and makes quips. They end up searching for a map to Luke Skywalker, who’s mysteriously vanished, while also trying to mount an assault on the First Order’s planet-sized Death Star. They hijack the Millennium Falcon, team up with Han Solo, and encounter Han’s kid, a really grumpy Darth Vader wannabe named Kylo Ren. Harrison Ford was a real treat as a much older Han Solo, but despite his well-known dislike of the character, he still injects a roguish spirit and gets some of the best lines. And I love that he got to shoot Chewie’s crossbow, big dream for him.

As it’s been pointed out numerous other places, The Force Awakens is largely a retelling of A New Hope with some twists and variations. It’s an interesting approach to bring the movies back around to its original starting point and then attempt to branch out in a different way… except it doesn’t really branch. Having a female Luke Skywalker and a somewhat bigger Death Star starts making the audience — especially upon repeat viewings — feel like we’ve really been here before.

I don’t mind that so much, I really don’t. Now that the new trilogy is done, I find that Force Awakens is the most enjoyable and least controversial to me. It’s got a really good flow to it, does a great job juggling both new and old character introductions, and — best of all — feels like Star Wars in a similar fashion to the original films. Probably my only quibble with it is that, at times, the characters get a little too jokey and flippant, which seems out of character for this universe. It sounds like other J.J. Abrams’ movies, in other words.

Abrams was a decent pick for a director because he’s great at set-up and mystery while delivering a good spectacle. What he’s not so good at is following through on his ideas without the core premise falling apart, which is what happens with Rise of Skywalker. But that’s a review for another day!

For this film and this one alone, I’m happy to have it join the Star Wars canon and was delighted to get a bridge between the old and new movies.

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