by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will delight the gazillions of fans who had been anxiously awaiting — nay, camping out at the theater door — for the series to return. It features a basic loyalty to the themes and plot structure of the original George Lucas films, which constitute Episodes IV through VI, confusingly enough, without meandering into the byways that made the latter three episodes (that would be one through three, are we clear?) so disappointing.
Director J.J. Abrams and fellow screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have cut down much of the spectacle that clogged these more recent additions to the series. Yet, in the return of characters critical to the very earliest episodes — which began appearing in 1977 — they have paid appropriate tribute to the undoubted staying power and appeal of the original concept. In particular, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Peter Mayhew as his furry co-pilot Chewbacca enliven the proceedings, reminding the viewer of how much their comic interchanges have been missed. (The third member of the power trio, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) disappoints: I just don’t believe her as a general of the resistance forces, and whatever chemistry Fisher and Ford had is a distant memory.)
Luckily, a new threesome has been added to augment these war weary veterans: Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who turns warrior; Finn (John Boyega), a Star Trooper deserter who reluctantly joins the Resistance; and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a jet jockey who crashes but does not burn and leads the attack on the new and enlarged equivalent of the Death Star. That the two central warriors are a woman and a black man should not, of course, go unremarked: both know their way around a light saber and one evidently finds that the Force is with her.
Another new but familiar character is a droid, a cute, rolly little guy named BB-8, who replaces C-3PO and R2D2, replicating the curiously funny and charming interchanges with humans of his metallic forerunners (both of whom make cameo appearances) and like them becoming an important element of the plot. There’s a new villain, one Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who pays creepy homage to Darth Vader in both his actions and his appearance but who has serious anger management issues that his idol lacked.
Finally, Abrams and an army of technician/artists have filled the screen with the kind of weird creatures — humanoid and other — and cool machines that have generated so much of the appeal of the prior episodes, not to mention an ongoing source of income for the Disney studios which now own the franchise. The original Luke Skywalker makes a brief appearance, not sufficient to warrant Mark Hamill’s star billing, but more than enough to guarantee that an Episode VIII is the works.
People of a certain age, like your present reviewer, may have trouble remembering where #VI left off these many years ago, as the opening scenes don’t directly pick up the thread. Not to worry: the themes and archetypes developed in the earlier films and richly alluded to here matter more than the details of who killed whose father or hooked up to produce whom.
Estimates are that Episode VII made back considerably more than its cost in the opening weekend: the inevitable repeat viewings by vacationing youngsters and fanatic elders will doubtless push the earnings into the next Galaxy. More importantly, Abrams and crew have pumped new life into an iconic series that many thought was — and should have been — left for dead.