By Emily Chicklis
There are two types of “Star Wars” fans: those who can forgive George Lucas’ shortcomings, and those who never want the guy to touch a camera or put a pen to paper again.
The creators of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” faced the immense challenge of pleasing the series’ existing audience, avoiding the sins of the critically-panned prequels, and at the same time, appealing to an entirely new generation of fans. The result is a terrifically fun, good-looking movie with a younger, more diverse cast.
John Boyega, the first black actor to have a leading role in the series, injects the film with boundless energy as a stormtrooper-gone-rogue. Boyega is paired nicely with Daisy Ridley as Rey, a no-nonsense, ever-competent scavenger who discovers that she is more powerful than she could have imagined.
And more than one scene is stolen by BB-8, an adorable droid that looks like a hybrid of R2-D2 and a soccer ball. These lovable characters face off with the enigmatic Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who aspires to become as powerful as Darth Vader before him.
In addition to a great new cast, of course, fans are treated to the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Carrie Fisher reprising her role as Princess-turned-General Leia Organa, and Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca. However, besides the praiseworthy casting choices, the plot doesn’t quite reach escape velocity from the gravity that is George Lucas.
Director and co-writer J.J. Abrams is known to be a “Star Wars” fan himself, and it was expected (and hoped) by many that the new film would feature nods to the original trilogy. For a movie so ingrained in the consciousness of movie fans everywhere, these references are practically obligatory.
But Abrams and his fellow screenwriters, Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan (who, it should be noted, also co-wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”), hold on to the tropes of the past a little too tightly.
The film introduces our hero Rey, a young woman who lost her family as a child, living her ordinary life on an out-of-the-way desert planet. One fateful day, Rey obtains a droid, which leads her straight to a major resistance movement led by General Leia. With the help of friends she meets on the way, Rey discovers that the Force is in fact strong with her and that she must face a former Jedi apprentice who has turned to the dark side.
Sound familiar? Replace “Rey” with “Luke,” and you basically have the plot to the first “Star Wars” film, “A New Hope.” The strict adherence to the structure of the original movie is surprising, given that the progressive casting choices were so successful.
While the callbacks to Lucas tradition are certainly tear-jerkers for older viewers (I dare anyone not to feel at least a catch in their throat when Han and Chewie first appear on screen), they are also somewhat limiting.
The characters, though engaging, can do nothing but follow in the footsteps of their predecessors—perhaps a commentary on how history repeats itself, but in a way that prevents these great personalities from living up their full potential.
On the other hand, this seventh installment is also very much a set-up for a new trilogy, rather than a stand-alone film like “A New Hope.” One would hope that once “The Force Awakens” woos audiences back to a galaxy far, far away, the creative team will feel free to let these characters choose their own paths, and hopefully fill out the backstories that are tantalizingly hinted at in the latest film.
Overall, “The Force Awakens” is a great tribute to the original films and a promising start to an action-packed new trilogy. In addition to Boyega and Ridley, the film features a solid performance from Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac as ace X-wing pilot Poe Dameron. The visual effects and cinematography are stunning, and, of course, fans are introduced to the controversial new lightsaber wielded by Kylo Ren, complete with crossguard.
Despite its flaws, the Force is undoubtedly strong with this latest installment of the series started by George Lucas a long time ago, and a new generation of “Star Wars” fans has indeed been awakened.