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Movie review: 'Stars War: The Force Awakens' does not disappoint

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(9 out of 10 stars)
(135 minutes. Rated PG-13 for science fiction violence.)

Unless you have been living on a remote part of Tatooine for the last two years, you could not have missed that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is opening this weekend—much to the high-pitched squealing delight of fanboys and movie-goers everywhere.

And let me assure you that writer, director, producer, and “Star Wars” nerd, J.J. Abrams, does not disappoint us in any sense of the word.

For the first time in 30 years, we get to see Han and Chewbacca and Princess Leia and Luke along with a whole new retinue of bright and shiny new stars to the Star Wars universe, and oh, let me tell you, what a fun ride it is again.

If you are anything like me, you turned off the Internet on Monday for fear of seeing anything that might have spoiled any plot point for Abrams’ career-defining film—no matter how good or bad it ultimately ended up being. So, I will warn you, I will not give away any huge plot points in this review (I never do), but I will set up the primary premise of the movie (I mean, I have to critique something, right?) This would be the time to quit reading if you do not want even that much information.

“The Force Awakens” picks up the Star Wars universe 30 years after the fall of the Empire and the death of Darth Vader. From the ashes another vile and maniacal villain, Supreme Leader Snoke (who takes the place of the Emperor) is hellbent on ruling the galaxy, of course, and has established the First Order. The First Order is challenged, of course, by the Resistance (neatly taking the place of the Rebellion). Snoke, a relatively minor character much like the Emperor in IV through VI, has a dark side of the Force lord, Kylo Ren, who does his evil bidding—just like Darth Vader—and is the primary antagonist. The new hero for the Rebellion—err, Resistance—is a young, destitute scavenger girl named Rey.

So, the bones are all there and in place and if you understand the original premise of “Star Wars,” it will not take you long to figure out the cast of players in this film (unlike the prequel that Lucas did where you needed a playbook). If I have a criticism of the film, it is that Abrams essentially did a reboot of the original movie—just retold with newer characters thrown in for good measure. I understand the universe abhors a vacuum, and something had to replace the Empire, so let us move onward.

The new protagonists introduced are delightful, well-written characters acted by some impressive talent. The head of the class is newcomer and future star-of-the-screen, Daisy Ridley who plays Rey—the primary principle who must discover how to use the Force. Her stunning good looks, personality, and talents just ooze off the screen, and for the first time in a long time (ever?) young girls everywhere have a fictional movie hero to worship—and that is a good thing. As sure as I am of anything, this young woman is going to be a star.

Her sidekick, Finn, played expertly by John Bodega, provides a Han Solo-like relationship and has many of the best lines. Oscar Issac plays super-phenom pilot, Poe Dameron, and highlights the special effects that are out of this world (see what I did there?).

On the dark side of the Force, Adam Driver plays Darth Vader-reincarnate character Kylo Ren. While I found his character to be as equally disturbing and evil as Vader, and just as fun to hate, Abrams, for some strange reason, put him in a mask for a large chunk of the movie. His best scenes, however, are when he takes off the mask and we get to see just how talented this actor is. And aside from the horrid name (Kylo Ren does not sound anywhere near as villainous as Darth Vader) he was as fun to watch as anyone.

The movie excels in most every regard, but it really sparkles and crackles when Han Solo and Chewbacca are in it. Played, of course, by Harrison Ford (who is finally showing his 73 years), Han and his furry sidekick have reached reverential status in the Galaxy. Chewbacca has some killer laugh lines—err, growls—and for brief moments, it was almost as if everyone watching were 12 years old again.

On the downside, Carrie Fisher returned as General Leia (no longer Princess), and the post-rehab years have not been kind to her. She was not horrid by any stretch of the imagination—her character was a simple plot point device—but her appearance and inability to talk normally through her dentures was distracting.

But the true star of the movie was Abrams. He understood what “Star Wars” is all about and what the maniacal fans of the franchise wanted and what George Lucas did not, or could not, give them in the three prequels (side note: Lucas, in a recent interview, said as much).

Abrams teamed up with “Empire Strikes Back” (the best of the franchise) writer, Lawrence Kasdan, to pen the script. The storyline, even though essentially a reboot, was crisp and moved forward linearly. The movie was replete with laugh-out-loud lines (although I got one that NO one in the audience did and embarrassed myself with a belly-laugh), as well as wonderful homages throughout to the original movie, so watch carefully. Abrams understands sentimentality and how to tug on heart strings (e.g. the line from the trailer, “We’re home, Chewie.”)

To that point, the special effects, with the same X-wing fighters (I had one. Anyone else?) and TIE fighters were as good as any movie I have ever seen. Just when you think CGI cannot get any better, it does. And on a side note, hats off to Abrams for none of his signature lens flares in this film. I bet that had to be hard for him.

Moreover, I think Abrams’ biggest coup was getting 83 year-old John Williams to do the score. When the familiar “Star Wars” logo introduced the film and William’s orchestra struck its first note, it was truly a goosebumps moment. Williams, in my mind, is the Beethoven or Mozart of the American 20th and 21st century, and at his age, it is fair to ask how many scores from him do we have left to enjoy. This one, with this particular film, is a rare treat that was essential in letting us, for a brief moment, be 12 years-old again.

This film fits right in with the original three from Lucas, and while by no stretch of the imagination is it a Best Picture candidate, it is what it should be. Fun, exciting, clearly defined heroes, and bad guys you love to hate.

I cannot wait to see it again—this time in IMAX—if and when all the “Star Wars” nerds clear out of there.

I give this film a 9 out of 10 stars.

About the Author
Who was that mysterious man you saw in the theater last night? You tried to get a look at him but he quickly disappeared in a puff of smoke, his cackle trailing in the air, leaving behind his calling card: a half-eaten box of popcorn and a lukewarm soda. He is Our Movie Reviewer named Tim!