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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

For those of us that were teens in 1977 when the original STAR WARS hit theatres, the films have always had a special place in our film memories. The lines around the Cine Capri and the thrill of going back to see it again and again on the big screen are ingrained in our personal film histories.

We fondly remember the even bigger thrill of seeing George Lucas top himself with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK at the Cine Capri two years later, then the strong closer RETURN OF THE JEDI opening night at the huge Kachina Theatre in old downtown Scottsdale. Suffice to say, those grand old theatres are long gone.

After the stilted, slow prequels that Lucas unleashed on fans a decade ago, it was with great anticipation that I entered STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Can Abrams wrap the same magic around Star Wars that he did with the Star Trek franchise, paying respectful tribute while rebooting it into the stratosphere?

The answer, for me, is a resounding and excited YES!

For those of you who haven’t seen the film yet during its record-breaking $238 million+ opening weekend, I promise NO SPOILER ALERT NEEDED. I wouldn’t even think about telling you any of the key points of this exciting new entry in the series, yet if you are a fan, you will find yourself knowing them intuitively (more on that later).

Abrams abandons the boring political exposition of the prequels (thank heavens) drops the cute-cute creatures (Ewoks and Jar Jar-Blech) and wooden dialogue that were always Lucas’ weaknesses and launches directly into the universe far, far away, about 30 years after Return of the Jedi ended.

Luke Skywalker is missing and a new, dangerous evil movement called The First Order is taking hold. As the film opens, Princess Leia (now General Leia) is sending her best pilot Poe (the terrific Oscar Issac) to try and recover a map that is supposed to lead to her brother, Luke.

In the opening scenes, we also meet the other key players that will serve as our heroes for the modern trilogy. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a lonely young woman, scavenging the desert landscape for enough scrap to get by. Finn (John Boyega) is a Storm Trooper who battles with his duty versus his internal moral compass. Our characters are soon thrown together to great effect in a clever screenplay by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote “The Empire Strikes Back”) that pays tribute to the past while carving out the future for our new heroes.

The Star Wars saga has always been at the mercy of its villains and they are a great bunch here, with Adam Driver a standout as Kylo Ren, a short-tempered leader of the First Order, personally determined to bring back the good old days of Darth Vadar and the Empire.

Abrams also brings back our original heroes with great wit and style. I don’t remember that last time that Harrison Ford was this loose, funny and endearing on screen. Han Solo is back. The years have added some wrinkles and white hair, but it hasn’t dampened the wit and sarcasm that made Han such an enjoyable figure in the original trilogy. Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is back as well, generating plenty of laughs.

Why doesn’t Carrie Fisher get more acting roles? She is excellent as Princess, now General Leia. She is flawless in every scene she’s in. There is genuine drama and caring in her relationship with Han and her search to find her brother.

Boyega, Driver, Ridley and Oscar Issac as Poe are first-rate newcomers. Anytime your cast includes the legendary Max Von Sydow in an opening scene cameo, you’ve assembled quite a group.

JJ hits all the right notes here, and for me, manages to straddle a very difficult line. It’s a fair question, after you’ve seen the film, to ask if he has created a sequel, or a virtual reboot of the original Star Wars. I’m not going to get into details, because to do so would involve talking about things you need to discover on your own. There were several moments where I started to question how Abrams leverages the details of the first film for this one, but the film is so much fun, it quickly swept away any resistance I had to its incorporation of past films.

Reboot, remake or sequel, there were moments in The Force Awakens that were some of the most fun I’ve had in a theatre in quite awhile. It all works for me, bringing the series into 2015 and creating a part one (or part 7 to be technical) that makes me hungry for part two (.

John Williams has created a new score that features all the themes you know, while existing on its own as a near-constant companion on screen.

The visual effects in the fight sequences are first rate. You’ve never seen x-wings and tie-fighters move and battle like they do here and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Somewhere down the road, the film buffs among us can have a totally different discussion about the ties of this new film to the 1977 original. For now, we can all just take a breath, settle into the seat and get ready for the opening blast of John Williams familiar score and the two hours of sheer fun that follow it, all the way to its great final shot that will remind you of the closing moments of “Empire” while making you crave the next installment.

The Force has awakened, its at FULL power and gets an A.

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