Star Wars: The Force Awakens ★★★½

J.J. Abrams had one job and one job only: avenge us. It’s been a rough two decades for Star Wars fans. The Special Editions in the late 90’s mucked up many of our childhood’s and Episode’s I-III did their best to absolutely ruin the Star Wars legacy at every turn. With Lucas gone and Abrams in charge, would we finally get a decent Star Wars flick or were we doomed to sterilized CGI porn for all eternity? Fear not, Abram’s delivers. The man who’s spent most of his directorial career aping his heroes [turning Star Trek into Star Wars-lite, and Super 8 into a long lost Spielberg/Amblin project] turned out to be the chosen one indeed. Abrams successfully recaptures the magic of the original Star Wars trilogy and leaves the life sucking drivel that was the prequels in the dust.

The Force Awakens [officially, Star Wars: Episode VII] takes place some 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Rebel Alliance’s celebratory jamboree on Endor proved short lived as the tyranny of the former Galactic Empire has morphed into a new threat, the dreaded First Order. This new group of space fascists are determined to reconquer the galaxy and are led by a mysterious Dark Side Force wielder called Supreme Leader Snoke and his fiery apprentice/Darth Vader substitute, Kylo Ren. They’re also hellbent on eradicating the last remaining Jedi and their biggest threat in the galaxy, Tatooine’s favorite son, Luke Skywalker. Princess Leia’s resistance forces need to find Luke before the First Order do, and use his Jedi skills to help them save the galaxy…again. Sound familiar? That’s because plot wise, The Force Awakens is basically a rehash of A New Hope [aka the original Star Wars film…Episode IV]. A sheltered teen from a backwards desert planet gets mixed up with some criminals and all of sudden finds themselves in a fight against intergalactic tyrants whose sinister plan is building a real big space gun. Even Han Solo can’t shake this feeling of deja-vu when he’s basically tasked with destroying the Death Star 3.0, saying:

“How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to blow it up.”

Fear not, while The Force Awakens‘ plot isn’t too fresh, everything else about the latest Star Wars film is excellent. The new kids on scene, Rey, Fin, Kylo Ren…even BB-8, deliver lively performances and all have great chemistry with each other onscreen. Daisy Ridley shines as Rey, carrying the weight of this new film and all future Star Wars episodes on her shoulders and does so marvelously. Her eyes gleam with wonder, tremble with fear and in some scenes, explode with passion and kick-assery. She and the new masked villain Kylo Ren, simply ooze emotion out of every frame, unlike the drab pout fest that marred the prequels, The Force Awakens features exciting characters that feel alive. Abram’s use of practical effects helps keep The Force Awakens inline with the original trilogy’s vibe/continuity, and when he does use CGI effects, it’s to sell rad X-Wing battles, not bludgeoning his film to death with green screen like the last guy. The Force Awakens is a campy, exciting space opera, like the original Star Wars. Sure, Abrams played it safe and kind of repackaged our favorite 1977 birthday gift for Christmas 2015, but it works and sets the stage for some high stakes force rattling in Episode VIII.

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