There’s good news for Star Wars fans. The initials in director J.J. Abrams’s name definitely do not stand for Jar Jar. His take on the “Star Wars” universe does everything the much-maligned prequels did not; that is it focuses on character and adventure not treaties or political dealings. It delivers a nostalgic blast while at the same time offering a new hope that the series can be freshened up.
Set thirty years after “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” and the defeat of the Galactic Empire, “The Force Awakens” sees Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and a new set of allies—including scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) an AWOL Stormtrooper and budding resistance fighter, daredevil pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the lovable basketball-shaped droid BB-8—battle against “a dark shadow spreading across the galaxy,” Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). They all have one goal in common, to locate missing Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
That’s it, just a barebones synopsis with no spoilers. I’m going to leave you to discover “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with fresh eyes because for the first time in over thirty years there is a “Star Wars” movie that delivers the same kind of wide-eyed joy as Lucas last delivered when Luke still had two hands.
Abrams gets away from the political bafflegab that made the prequels such a chore. Instead he returns to the basics, good vs. evil, fathers and sons, keeping it on track as an action-adventure with great characters.
Rey is the female lead everyone has been waiting for Marvel to make a movie about. Abrams beat them to the punch. She’s powerful, human, self sufficient—“Don’t take my hand,” she snarls at Finn as he tries to lead her to safety—and would never even consider wearing a gold bikini.
As a Stormtrooper who finds redemption Finn is the catalyst for much of the film’s action. He’s a little bit goofy, a lot brave and in over his head but because he thinks with his heart and not his head he’s a welcome, charming presence.
Poe Dameron has the swagger of a young Han Solo while BB-8 has personality plus and purrs like a cat. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is a robed evildoer prone to childish temper tantrums.
Connecting these new characters to the universe are legends from the past, Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia (Carrie Fisher).
Teaming Solo, Chewie and the Millennium Falcon provides an undeniable nostalgic rush but they are here as more than just cameos to pay tribute to the past. Ford’s Spencer Tracy-esque vibe allows him the gravitas to utter lines like “The galaxy is counting on us,” while sidekick Chewie says much without actually speaking words. Leia has a smaller role, but it’s a blast to see Ford and Fisher, both looking age appropriate, together again.
Their first meeting exemplifies the movie’s playful tone. “You’ve changed your hair,” Hans says to his old flame, noticing her famous bagel hair buns are gone. What could have been a grand reunion is underplayed and instead the call back to the past is presented as a warm moment between two old friends.
It’s that kind of warmth and humanity that separates “The Force Awakens” from other big budget blockbuster entertainment. The finale is big and loud like the Marvel movies but unlike “The Avengers” films Abrams keeps the emotional core alive right up until the end. It’s the right mix of space-opera-cool and character that will please the hard-core fans that see this as just another piece of a much larger puzzle but also works as a standalone story as well.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a blast, nostalgic and otherwise.