The Bock’s Office: ‘The Force Awakens’ and so does ‘Star Wars’ mania
There are lots of exciting stories that could be started with just 10 words, but when you see “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” on the screen, it’s go time for any age. And so the journey begins again with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
If you go…
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 135 minutes
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Adam Driver
Decades after the fall of the Galactic Empire, interplanetary peace is threatened once again by a devious group known as the First Order, a militia seeking total power and ready to wipe out anyone in its way.
That includes Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last surviving Jedi, whose sudden disappearance has the Order searching for him frantically, as are the freedom fighters The Resistance, in turn seeking a way to curb the organization’s tactics carried out by the ruthless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) may have the answers his Resistance superiors need to gain ground in the fight, but when he must entrust a droid named BB-8 to deliver the critical information, it sets in motion a chain of events that involve a conscience-stricken Stormtrooper (John Boyega), a desert scavenger (Daisy Ridley) and a few folks who have some past experience battling the forces of evil.
It’s been many years and three less-than-stellar prequels, but it’s been worth it to see Harrison Ford in the role that will always rival Indiana Jones as his most iconic. Han Solo is almost exactly what you’d expect the “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” in his golden years: a smidgen more humble but still endearingly sarcastic and of course, still causing trouble among the galaxy’s underworld as he and faithful, furry Wookiee companion Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) take a break from the smuggling business to rack up their do-gooder points again.
Carrie Fisher likewise is a welcome sight as Leia, now a Resistance general, weary from seeing the bloodshed she thought was over rise up again and worried sick about the unexplained vanishing act of her brother.
There may be a little more on the former princess’s mind, but the Jedi oath of no spoilers forbids me from saying any more.
As for the new kids in this ensemble, Isaac gets things started right as the hotshot who flies an X-Wing better than any other, but it’s not until we meet Boyega that we begin to see things we haven’t before, namely a Stormtrooper who starts to think for himself.
The First Order refers to him only as FN-2187, but you can call him Finn. Just don’t call him easy to figure out, as he goes through a range of emotions on his unexpected adventure, growing from irrepressible cowardice to the kind of hero the universe needs.
Ridley has a larger character arc, by the looks of it as strongly independent Rey, a loner living out of an abandoned AT-AT Walker — you’ll recognize it when you see it if the name doesn’t ring a bell — in the sandy world of Jakku, her life changing forever when she crosses paths with a feisty little robot. Instant star BB-8 looks like the love child of a Roomba and a basketball but is still very much a worthy successor to the machines that came before him, by the way, thank the maker!
This saga has always relied on its villains to set the tone as much as its protagonists, and Driver does not disappoint as Kylo Ren, more complex in his dealings than Emperor Palpatine ever was and less in control of his rage than Darth Vader, with an outfit that blends the black one’s visage with that of Boba Fett’s helmet.
And, you only to glance at his lightsaber color to know which side of the Force he aligns himself with in this story. What he does with the deadly weapon — tweaked to include a handy hilt that only looks superfluous until you see it in battle — only confirms it.
Same Sith, different day, am I right?
There’s both a sense of sincere reverence and thinly veiled contempt for the gospel according to George Lucas as JJ Abrams takes over the seventh “Star Wars” movie, a duality that manifests itself as near-mimicry of the best and worst qualities in any of the four movies in the series that Lucas helmed himself.
In penning the script with franchise veteran Lawrence Kasdan and fellow newcomer Michael Arndt, Abrams doesn’t exactly go far off course — if you’re a big enough fan, you should be able to predict most plot points — and more often than not pays tribute to the man who made it all happen as the groundbreaking filmmaker and role model to nerds everywhere in the 1970s before becoming their pariah in the ‘90s and early 2000s.
Without revealing too much, the story fits a little too well into the original vision, possibly as little more than an apology for “Greedo shot first,” midichlorians, Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen, all while not adding that much as a director.
Maybe Abrams is too eager to pass the lightsaber to the team already starting on Episode VIII.
Yet, there is a lot to enjoy in his go, with all the John Williams music and movie magic that blew minds back in the day updated just enough for the youngest generation of viewers and the ones that came before them. It’s officially OK to be a “Star Wars” fan again.
The final title may be “The Force Awakens,” but any number of descriptions would have sufficed: “A Newer Hope,” “Disney Strikes Back” or “Revenge of the Fans.” However you want to think of it as we dive into another trilogy, it seems accurate to reference the series catchphrase by saying, “I’ve got a cautiously optimistic feeling about this.”
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