Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Force Is Strong With This One

Reel To Reel: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Going Rate: Worth full price admission in IMAX
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Lightsaber battles, blaster fire, X-wings vs. TIE fighters... you know the drill

Getting Star Wars away from George Lucas is the best thing to happen to this saga in a long time. While Lucas created the trilogy and the mythology, his three prequels to the classic trilogy lacked emotional depth to go with their visual dazzle. At times, it felt like he was mailing it in. More often, the first three pictures felt lame. Apart from a few scenes in The Phantom Menace, I don't have any standout memories of them. When Lucas sold his studio to Disney, and Disney announced it would make new Star Wars pictures, you knew things were going to be different, and better.

Director J.J. Abrams delivers on that new hope. He has made a picture that will resonate with both fanboys and casual fans. It's a picture that works because of its economy, taking us back to the familiar with plenty of inside references rather than trying to create vast new worlds. It creates likeable new heroes while catching up on the old ones. Yes, Han Solo (Ford), Princess Leia (Fisher), Chewbacca (Mayhew), Master Luke Skywalker (Hamill), C3-PO (Daniels) and R2-D2 are along for the ride. Yet they are more of a bridge between old and new without having to prop the film up.

I refuse to get into plot points because so much of Star Wars' fun comes from letting it play out before you. I also don't want this site to get blocked by various spoiler-sniffing apps floating around. I will just tell you that planetary scavenger Rey (Ridley), reluctant stormtrooper Finn (Boyega), and ace fighter pilot Poe (Issac) are all thrown together into a mission to defeat another plot from a new form of the old Empire. Leading the way and stealing the show is the nerdily-cute BB-8 rolling ball droid, which will remind you of how much you enjoyed first watching R2-D2. BB-8 is sure to end up on many a Christmas list.

All you really need to know beyond this is that The Force Awakens contains everything you want and nothing you don't. You won't find aberrations like Jar-Jar in this film, nor Ewoks, nor pod racers. Like he did with the Star Trek reboot several years ago, Abrams has transformed something with waning cool into current cool. At least two more sequels are in the works. Let's hope Abrams keeps it going.

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