“Star Wars.” Over the course of thirty-eight years, those two words have come to symbolize something familiar. Even if you have not seen a “Star Wars” movie, you probably know something about it. It has not only become a lexicon in the global society, but it changed the very fabric of film making and marketing, challenging every convention and giving rise to a new branch of independent films. In 2012, the progenitor of Star Wars, George Lucas, sold the property to Disney, who immediately jumped on the chance to expand the ‘Empire’ and reignite our love of all things of The Force.
Here enter J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, “Lost”), who brings us the the latest episode in the saga, ‘The Force Awakens.’
Picking up 31 years after ‘Return of the Jedi,’ on the planet Jakku, we encounter Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), a Resistance operative who is trying to secure a map from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow, in a cameo). After an ambush by The First Order, led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Finn (John Boyega) who was a storm tooper joins forces with Poe to escape from Ren’s ship, only to crash land on Jakku. There, they encounter Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is not all she seems. Together, they make an amazing escape from Jakku on the Millennium Falcon, encountering two familiar heroes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). Together with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), they go off to prevent galactic upheaval once again.
The story, written by Abrams, Michael Arndt and ‘Star Wars’ alum Lawrence Kasdan (‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ ‘Return of the Jedi’) is fun. The newer characters seemed flat, but the actors, most notably Ridley, Driver, Issac and Lupita Nyong’o really added depth. The original characters felt more nostalgic rather than offering something new or fresh in a meaningful way, leading to some story development challenges.
Abrams’ visual style is best enjoyed on a large screen. The practical visual effects, primarily done by Industrial Light and Magic, are top notch as is the brilliant sound mix by Gary Rydstrom and Ben Burtt, both also “Star Wars” alumnus. Rounding out the movie is yet another rousing score from John Williams, who mixes new themes with original themes, lending another layer of nostalgia to the movie.
Abrams succeeds in creating a fun, but familiar atmosphere while Kasdan delivers a familiarity to the original characters. The visual style of the movie really shines, but overshadows the characters, leading to a pacing issue. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is not a home run, but “the Force is strong with this one,” and is recommended.