Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek Into Darkness”)
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan (“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”), J.J. Abrams (“Super 8”), Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
After more than a decade-and-a-half of heartache whipped into a frenzy of pain and anger by the rise of the internet and some cold, sub-standard prequels hatched exclusively from the brain of series creator George Lucas, “Star Wars” fans felt they had, ahem, a new hope when Disney bought the franchise in and immediately announced an Episode 7 of the saga—now known as “The Force Awakens”—would finally continue the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. Adding admitted fan J.J. Abrams as the director and “The Empire Strikes Back” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan to the creative team, along with the pledge to return to some practical special effects and film stock instead of existing almost exclusively in the digital world as the prequels did, ramped anticipation for the film into the Dagobah system. After what seems like years of carefully navigating the news releases and leaks to avoid spoilers, the movie is finally here, and it most definitely calls to mind the classic “Star Wars” movies—for better or worse.
The spoiler-free synopsis goes like this: 30 years after the death of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished. The First Order has risen in the Empire’s place, and is on the hunt for the last Jedi, led by Vader-worshipper Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (motion capture legend Andy Serkis). A hotshot pilot for the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), has the missing chunk of a map that leads to Skywalker’s location, and to keep it from falling into the First Order’s hands as he comes under attack from Ren, he entrusts the data to beach-ball droid BB-8 on the desert planet Jakku. BB-8 rolls his way across the sand dunes and encounters Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger waiting for her family to return after abandoning her years ago. Meanwhile, a Stormtrooper groomed from birth to be a warrior (John Boyega) grows a conscience and helps free Dameron from Ren’s clutches. The two escape on a stolen TIE Fighter, where Dameron gives his new friend the name Finn and tells him they need to retrieve BB-8. After crash landing on Jakku, Finn finds Rey and the droid, and the trio must run flee the planet to look for help as the First Order closes in. Luckily there happens to be an old, junky spaceship lying around…
In an effort to please the fans who felt burned by the relative crumminess of the prequel trilogy, Disney has rendered “The Force Awakens” as the mega-franchise version of Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s house. It’s cinematic comfort food with almost no exotic ingredients to make it different than the similar meals you’ve enjoyed before. Sure, some things were rearranged and there was a small sampling of a new type of gravy—look, what I mean is this “The Force Awakens” essentially serves up a greatest hits remix of original trilogy plot points. Desert planet? Check. Droid with secret plans? Yup. Planet-sized planet-destroying weapon with one point of weakness? Oh yes. A showdown between family members on the opposite sides of good and evil on a bridge over a bottomless chasm? Yeah, even that, and much more. But it still makes for a fine sci-fi fantasy, and Ridley, Boyega, Driver, and Isaac are all fantastic additions to a cast that includes old timers Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and the rare engaged Harrison Ford. I suppose the franchise needed this palate cleanser, but let’s hope the next adventure is a little more adventurous.