Three Thumbs Up for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

SPOILER ALERT!

Nearly four decades ago, in this very galaxy, I saw a movie called Star Wars.

I was awestruck. I became an instant devotee, an evangelist. Others might have less kindly described me as obsessed.

“Have you seen Star Wars?”

Friends and relatives started to avoid me because they knew I was going to ask that question. If they answered “yes,” a lengthy, often one-sided conversation about the film would be impossible to duck. If they answered “no,” they found themselves being hustled to the nearest theater still showing the movie. If necessary, I would even pay for their tickets.

By the time Star Wars had left the theaters, I had probably seen it a dozen or more times. Certain that I would never be able to own a print of the movie, I had gone so far as to sneak a tape recorder into the theater to get the entire soundtrack.

I memorized virtually the entire dialog. I bought the musical soundtrack on LP. I bought a “black market” copy of the original theater poster.

I authored a 100-question Star Wars trivia quiz. I harassed other fans into taking the quiz, grading them and giving them the results. Most were not pleased. I did have an advantage with my bootlegged audio copy.

Relatives stopped alerting me about scheduled family gatherings. Friends made full use of advancing telephone technology to avoid my calls.

As the years passed, I was a release date regular at all of the sequels and prequels. The sequels were good; the prequels, not so much. None of them lived up to the original.

Thus, it was with tremendous anticipation that I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, on Dec. 24. I was nearly a week tardy, but people willing to see a Star Wars movie with me have become sparse. My 7-year-old grandson, Matthew, agreed to become my less than enthusiastic companion after I dangled the 3-D option.

We were not disappointed. I loved it. A tougher critic, he liked it. So, we collectively give it three thumbs up.

My only reservation about the J.J. Abrams offering is how much it shared with the movie that started it all. It’s one thing to be true to an original, but it’s another to be so true that you start to wonder if you’re watching something truly new or a thinly disguised remake. While I reveled immersion in a warm, soothing, 1977 bath of nostalgia, I couldn’t escape the nagging sense of deja vu.

The central character, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is somehow able to harness the Force. She’s living on a desert planet when when she acquires an adorable droid, BB-8. The droid is carrying critical information being sought by both the First Order (bad guy successors to the Empire) and the Resistance (good-guy successors to the Rebel Alliance). So far, Rey seems to be following the Luke Skywalker path.

The chief antagonist is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Darth Vader’s grandson. Kylo wears a voice-altering masked helmet which apparently does not perform the life-support functions of his grandfather’s equipment. He keeps grandpa’s battered helmet on a table and talks to it. He has issues.

 

The new film features another Death Star (quickly shown to be a much, much bigger than its predecessors), which may be why the First Order decided to go down that unpromising path yet again. Squadrons of X-wing fighters fend off TIE fighters as the Resistance focuses on the Death Star’s weak spot – once the protective force field has been disabled. As the attack continues, the Death Star is recharging and counting down for another round of planet blasting. The Resistance is only seconds away from destruction.

Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, includes the unexpected death of a beloved character. In the original, Obi-Wan Kenobi was cut down by Vader; this time, the victim is Han Solo. Harrison Ford apparently really, really did not want to be included in the next sequel. It was a shocking and emotional scene, as Han appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough with Kylo, who is Han’s and Leia’s wayward, Dark Side-seduced son.

The inclusion of all the original main characters enhanced the connection with the original Star Wars, getting an audience response with each initial star’s appearance. The whole gang was there, at least briefly, including Han, Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and the Millennium Falcon (as itself). It was interesting to see how the actors had weathered the decades, but I was happy to see that minimal effort had been made to make them appear as their 1977 selves.

Abrams has, of course, presented new story lines to extend in coming sequels. Fans, myself included, want to get Rey’s backstory. The leading theory is that she is Luke’s daughter, which would explain her ability to use the Force. Also, does any hope of redemption till exist for Kylo?

The new movie’s close kinship to the original is probably best seen as Abrams’ masterful job of making a successful transition for the franchise. After all, he did have the daunting task of overcoming three lackluster prequels.

I’ll be happily be standing in line when the next sequel is released.

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