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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

12/24/15
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



New rebel fighters and reluctant heroes join Leia, Han and other old favorites from the original Lucas trilogy in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a solid return to the galaxy far, far away.

Be warned: I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum with the spoilers but maybe check back with the review later if you want to be completely surprised by all details in this movie.
It’s about 30 years since the rebellion blew up the second Death Star, but the fight between the light and dark sides of the Force continues. Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) attempts at building a new band of Jedi has not been successful and now he is in a self-imposed exile. Now-General Leia (Carrie Fisher) is desperate to find him to help the still-fledgling Republic and the group that acts as its army (I guess?), the resistance, fight the First Order, a group of space Nazis that has inherited the storm troopers, ships and snazzy uniforms from the Empire.
On the desert planet of Jakku, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) gets a vital piece of information in the search for Luke from an ally. But before this resistance pilot can make his getaway, the First Order shows up, all stormtroopers and explosions. He tries to take off in his fighter jet, but the fire from the troops is too heavy, so he slips the information into his puppy-cute droid, the orange and white BB-8 that beeps and is currently out of stock on Amazon. Get away from here and I will come and find you, Poe tells the BB-8, who sells for $149.95 and can be guided with your smartphone or tablet.
As with Princess Leia oh so many years ago, Poe is captured after sending the droid off. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a big deal with the First Order who wears a snazzy update of the Darth Vader look, takes Poe up to the Star Destroyer-y ship that is his home base, where he tries to Force-squeeze the information out of Poe’s brain. This results in Kylo learning about the droid but not, luckily for the resistance, the exact details of the map. Before Kylo can go digging around in Poe’s brain any more, though, a stormtrooper shows up to take Poe somewhere. Luke Skywalker, here to rescue him? No, but similar, it’s Finn (John Boyega), as Poe eventually nicknames the FNnumbersnumbers stormtrooper who had an uncharacteristic crisis of conscience back on Jakku. While he watched Ren murder a bunch of villagers and saw some of his own stormtrooper brethren die, Finn decided that cannon fodder for an evil army was not the life for him. The men get away, but a firefight with Tie-Fighters leads them to crash-land back on Jakku. Finn soon finds himself shipless and stranded in the desert with only Poe’s supercool-looking jacket. 
The jacket helps the BB identify Finn as somebody who knows about Poe. Well, at first he thinks Finn probably stole the jacket from Poe, which is why the BB has Rey (Daisy Ridley, who reminded me of a chipper Keira Knightley — in a good way) tackle Finn on first meeting. Rey is a can-do scavenger the BB met on its way through the desert. She was stranded on Jakku by her family as a girl and now she gets by yanking parts out of old Imperial ships and selling them for food. Finn and Rey meet just as stormtroopers show up looking for the BB. They make their way toward a fast ship to get the heck off the planet. When that ship is blown up, they head to the hunk of junk sitting next to it and — hey, it’s the Millennium Falcon!
Thus begins the journey of unlikely allies. Rey and Finn, who is passing himself off as a member of the resistance to Rey, plan to get the BB to the resistance. Along the way, they run into Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Rey and Finn must decide if, like a certain smuggler decades earlier, they are just in this trip for their own personal goals or if they too want to join in the fight against the dark side.
The scene where Rey and Finn meet Han and Chewbacca pretty perfectly captures the spirit of this movie. Rey and Finn, who have each heard near mythical stories about Han and the Rebellion, fanboy out a bit — you’re the general? The guy who made the Kessel Run in 14 parsecs? Rey and Finn are starstruck but also not particularly certain they want to get involved in whatever sketchy business Han’s into now, just as they aren’t certain they want to get tangled up in the whole Resistance versus First Order fight. Rey is still hoping that if she sticks around Jakku, her family might show up. Finn just wants to get as far as possible from war. They are kids, just like the whiny, itching-to-leave-Tatooine Luke in the first movie, and Rey and Finn figuring out who they are and what their part will be in this bigger struggle give the movie its energy and sense of adventure.
In many ways, what J.J. Abrams does here is similar to what he did with his reboot of Star Trek. Like a kid building his own creation out of a Lego set, he takes pieces of the original Star Wars (which I am too old to train myself to call A New Hope) and reassembles them to make something that is different from the thing it started as but with enough similarities that he isn’t whole-scale reinventing anything. Once again, there’s a rebel, information stored in an adorable droid, a person on a dusty planet, the hunk of junk that is the Millennium Falcon, a quest to bring the droid to the rebel headquarters, a destiny, an old man with some back story, a villain trying to prove himself and a princess. We get callbacks, reimaginings, echos and the occasional moment of blatant but cute fan service — such as a moment when, as the gang is jostling around the Falcon, Finn finds the training laser ball thing that Luke used in the first movie. He gives it a “what is this?” look then chucks it away. That one’s for you, forty-something movie-goer, the movie seems to say. We even get hints of the original dialogue and what’s shocking is that dialogue from a Lucas movie is more or less organically fit into natural-sounding conversations.
(An aside: Abrams stays far away from anything that smacks of the clunky, CGI-nonsense-filled prequel films of the late 1990s and early aughts. But for serious prequel fun, check out Belated Media and their “What if it was good?” take on the prequel trilogy. It reimagines the story of Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi and, with the power of one exited geek’s narration and really charming storyboards, crafts a fun alternate universe.)
So, in many ways, this is the sequel you’re looking for. It’s gritty — I’m sure there’s green screen happening here but it doesn’t scream at you the way the all-green-screen, all-the-time prequel movies did. It’s populated primarily with human characters (with a few exceptions, including, of course, a Wookie) and one cutesy droid. It gives us a few heroes making a journey. It gives us a glimpse at some of our favorite characters from the old movie. It gives us a universe that looks like it could be part of the same universe of the original trilogy and it is infused with the same spirit of old-fashioned action-adventure. Because Abrams is at the helm, it also has a bit of humor and a dash of lightness that Lucas never managed. There is something in the reactions of these characters — particularly Rey and Finn — to their sudden plunge into the war between Light and Dark that recalls the sassiest bits of the first movie’s Leia. 
That said, this isn’t a perfect movie. The Force Awakens is most definitely an episode, not a complete story. There’s a lot of telegraphing of future things, how characters relate to each other and who will need to fight whom, that feels very much like waving around the gun now that’s going to go off in 2019. 
If this movie were my introduction to the Star Wars universe, I’d probably say that every scene with that Leia lady, anything about this Luke dude and a good amount of stuff with that sourpuss Han guy is skippable. Whereas Leonard Nimoy’s Spock really helped to sell the reboot of Star Trek, a lot of the original trilogy characters and their tribulations feels secondary to the point of being almost unnecessary to the more interesting stories of Rey, Finn and cocky pilot Poe, whose scenes with Finn are goofily charming. Han comes the closest to the “old Spock” effect; his character has the most to do but it still feels slightly more like fan service than story necessity.
And then there are the villains. Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, this movie’s version of a Grand Moff Tarkin. From what I gather, Hux, all spiffy black suit and perfect coif, is the take-no-nonsense Nazi. He thinks Kylo Ren (who I kept thinking of as “Rilo Kiley”), with his mask and his black cape and his harping on the Force, is too much showmanship, not enough evil-military discipline. When Hux and Kylo go to speak with their big boss, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), everything Hux says regarding Kylo could also be conveyed with an eyeroll. “Ugh, again with the Force,” Hux seems to want to say. 
And I kind of agree with Hux. Kylo Ren should be a terrifying figure of a reborn evil. Instead, he a bit feels like an exhausting figure of suburban angst. Like, you get the sense Kylo listens to a lot of Morrissey and writes angry/sad poetry. At one point, Kylo removes his mask and my first impulse was to laugh. I gather that some of this is intended — just as Rey and Finn aren’t sure of their roles, evil’s assistant manager Kylo still feels the call of the Light Side of the Force. But the way Driver plays him suggests to me more poutiness than hardcore villainy. While not at Hayden Christensen levels of poutery, this definitely feels poutier than you’d expect from your Big Scary Bad.  
These flaws are not at all fatal, however. The Force Awakens succeeds both at the low-bar standard of being better than the much-maligned prequel trilogy and at being good enough to pique our (the collective “our” of Star Wars fandom of all levels, from casual movie-watchers to Expanded Universe devotees) interest in a new trilogy. It does this and provides a solid and fun adventure story in its own right. That its new characters are more exciting than its old might be the very thing this franchise needs to give us all a new hope. B+
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence (and, let’s face it, because what else was it going to be rated?). Directed by J.J. Abrams with a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt (from characters by George Lucas), Star Wars: The Force Awakens is two hours and 15 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios. 





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