Taking place more than 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi,” everyone seems to have forgotten about the great battle so long ago in that galaxy far, far away. Though the Rebellion was victorious, out of the ashes of the defeated Empire comes an all new and potentially more powerful threat called the First Order. Its evil leader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), has vowed to pick up where ominous Darth Vader left off, leaving a whole new generation of freedom fighters to stand in his way. But in order to be truly victorious, old friends and new will have to search the galaxy to find the one person who can once again restore balance to the power of the Force: Luke Skywalker.
Eschewing the reliance on computer-generated visual effects that all but overwhelmed the three “Star Wars” prequels, “The Force Awakens” marks a return to more practical sets, models and stunts that make the film more visceral, engaging and exciting. This is movie magic at its finest, but it never threatens to overpower the scope, the story or the refreshing and fully-realized characters. The new cast members led by John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver give superb performances, which is only surpassed by the welcomed (and chill-inducing) sight of returning players Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, among others. And screenwriters JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt juggle the multiple storylines seamlessly while striking the perfect balance between the old and the new.
But if there’s one drawback to “The Force Awakens,” it’s that it tries to recapture the glory of what made “Star Wars” so great without really advancing the story to a whole new level. History repeats itself, and the only things that have changed are the names. The Empire is now the First Order. The Rebellion is now the Resistance. The Death Star is now Starkiller Base. It’s still a fantastic movie, so newcomers and casual fans won’t mind. But for diehard fans who have seen the Original Trilogy hundreds of times, the story and plot points are all too familiar – so familiar, in fact, that it almost feels like a reboot or doppelganger of sorts of the very first “Star Wars” film, “A New Hope,” rather than a real continuation of the series.
“The Force Awakens” plays it safe (maybe a little too safe), but it still fits the bill as an amazing “Star Wars” movie, and a great movie, period. It’s not as trailblazing as the original film, nor is it as bold or as audacious as “The Empire Strikes Back.” But it is still very good, and it’s at least as good as “Return of the Jedi” (it might even be better, but I’ll need some perspective and a few more viewings to make that judgment call). From the opening crawl to the ending credits, it’s the “Star Wars” movie we waited decades for, and it sets the stage for even bigger, better and bolder adventures to come.
And for this “Star Wars” fan, that represents a new hope, indeed.