Arise — Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force is strong in Disney’s new Star Wars movie.

Note that I didn’t say George Lucas’ new Star Wars movie — Episode VII was fast-tracked for production as soon as Lucas sold the rights to the franchise along with Lucasfilm, Industrial Light and Magic, and the rights to Indiana Jones to the House of Mouse.

Disney went to work making big ripples by removing Lucas’ Expanded Universe from continuity and starting off fresh for a brand new trilogy which features a cast filled with familiar faces and new hopefuls.

Episode VII: The Force Awakens comes after the bitter taste of the prequels and picks up about thirty years after the end of Return of the Jedi.

As a new enemy fills the void created by the collapse of the Empire, heroes emerge to protect the universe.

Much has been made about the originality of Episode VII’s script — some critics have dinged the movie for being too much like Episode IV.

Instead of rebutting those critiques, I’m going to go one step further in pointing out this newest entry to the series does more than retell that one episode — it has similar plot points to all three of the original trilogy movies.

We follow a hero who leaves a desert planet to fight against a fascist foe who has managed to create a planet capable of harnessing a system’s star to destroy other planets. There’s a plot about redeeming a family member, discovering a lost hero, and an epic snow battle that features the series’ best lightsaber battle yet.

Understanding the circular nature of the Star Wars series — Lucas himself is a Buddhist, and his philosophy and its influence can be found in all the various movies — it makes sense that the filmmakers incorporated a bit of the old along with the new. Superfans will find a lot points culled from the expanded universe trilogy as well as former producer Gary Kurtz’s plans for Revenge of the Jedi before he left the project in protest.

While some may lament the been-there-done-that nature of The Force Awakens, there’s plenty to the movie that makes it delightful and a great first step after the tragic misstep of the prequels — not to mention a continuation from the beloved original three.

Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are wonderful in their roles, offering up two very original characters with an incredible spark. Boyega’s Finn is an empath as well as a fighter — his conscience pushes him away from the First Order, but his sense of justice keeps him in the fight to save his friends. As a former child-soldier, Finn’s journey as he comes into contact with the rest of the universe is beautifully awkward and filled with humor.

Ridley as Rey is perhaps this year’s best character in any movie — though Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is a worthy competitor — and I’m not going to say it’s all about Girl Power.

No, this is about perfect performances creating amazing characters that aren’t just an example of diversity or proof that more women should be in leading roles. No one argues that Tom Hardy’s Mad Max or Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is proof that there should be more leading males, and I’m not going to go down that road here.

Simply put, Rey is just amazing and a great character for anyone who loves to see stories about the Hero’s Journey. Ridley imbues her character with strength and a moral compass that comes from the inside out.

The performances by the new heroes wouldn’t shine so brightly without a worthy adversary, and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is impetuous, ruthless, and an example of too much power in unworthy hands. With or without the mask, Driver manages to take Darth Vader’s throne, and I cannot wait for what’s to come.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Directed by: JJ Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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