After a decade-long absence — more than three for fans of the original trilogy — Star Wars is back on the big screen. J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens brings fresh new excitement never before seen in the entire saga while rekindling what made us love the original films in the first place, although it might be pushing the latter part a little too much.
More than 30 years have passed since the end of the Galactic Empire, but the galaxy is anything but peaceful. From the Empire’s ashes, a powerful faction known as the First Order has arisen, intent on shattering the New Republic. They are not to be underestimated, especially with the Order constructing a weapon more powerful than the Death Star. To make matters worse, the legendary Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), has gone missing. Both sides are focused on finding him. The Republic-backed Resistance army needs his help, while the First Order hopes to end the Jedi lineage once and for all.
But a new development arises on the desert planet of Jakku. A secret map of Skywalker’s location is obtained by Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his little droid, BB-8. However, Poe is captured by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Order’s fearsome warrior of the dark side. With his master subdued, it is left to BB-8 to somehow deliver the secret map to the Resistance. To the droid’s luck, he comes across a lonely but courageous scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is willing to help.
As this happens, Poe escapes the clutches of the First Order with the help of Finn (John Boyega) — a defecting Stormtrooper with cold feet. However, the great space-escape literally comes crashing down back to the desert planet. Poe goes missing, but through sheer luck, Finn happens upon Rey and BB-8. With the Order now on the hunt and the galactic stakes at hand, it is now up to the trio to bring the map to the resistance or die trying. This leads to an exhilarating adventure filled with old friends, treacherous new enemies and the beginning of a brand new legend in the ever-changing tale of the Force.
If you are big fan of the original film and feel a sense of déjà vu, then it’s no surprise. In terms of basic plot structure, The Force Awakens borrows heavily from the first three Star Wars movies. It makes for a great nostalgia trip that still provides great fun for newcomers, but it is disappointing for those looking for a fresh conflict. This does not mean everything plays out exactly like an old-school carbon-copy; Awakens has plenty of great moments unique to itself. It’s hard to explain in order to avoid spoilers, but there are moments that have you cheering anyway despite contrivances. Though, even then, the novelty within some of these scenes heavily relies on one’s nostalgia for the original films. In other words, Awakens’ greatness ends up being stopped by a ceiling of over-familiarity.
Yet, retread or not, The Force Awakens is the best audiovisual Star Wars movie experience to date. It is the proper modern iteration that the recent prequel films failed to live up to. The film features the most dynamic cinematography ever seen in the series and the best blockbuster special effects they deserve. You can tell that a lot of effort went into both CGI and conventional special effects. The two elements are thoroughly crafted and effectively integrated with each other throughout. It’s not wrong to say that there are other films that still better excel at this than Awakens, but for Star Wars standards, it’s an energizing breath of fresh air.
The film’s greatest strength lies within its new cast of characters. From the get-go, Rey and Finn are both incredibly likeable protagonists that share very relatable flaws. This is made even better by the great performances and chemistry of the young actors and a script with very minimal cheesiness. Kylo Ren is, by far, the most emotionally complex villain of these movies. This is especially welcomed after the previous films’ botched attempts at giving Darth Vader more depth. The much cherished old cast is not thrown under the bus either. The new blood is the bigger focus, but veterans like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) still play a surprisingly substantial role in this turn of events. There are some exceptions, but, over all, The Force Awakens does a great job in letting its newer players shine without cheaply plugging-in the old.
All in all, The Force Awakens is the fresh new Star Wars movie experience you’ve been waiting for. Is it problematic in relying too much on nostalgia? You bet it is. Still, it’s a well-crafted, spectacular return to “a galaxy far, far away.” In the words of Han as he enters the Millennium Falcon for the first time in years…
“Chewie, we’re home.”