If the past year has proven anything it's that no matter how big Marvel's movies get, they'll never be Star Wars. The arrival of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams' long-awaited seventh chapter of George Lucas' space epic, has turned everyone into a kid again, giddy with the mere thought of more adventures of the Skywalker clan, Han Solo, Leia, and more. This is one of those experiences we all hope to sit back, enjoy, and share with one another. Not many franchises can do that, but Star Wars can. That's if it's any good, though, right? After the prequels failed to live up to the hype everyone has good reason to be hesitant to break out their toy lightsaber, but I'm here to tell you that 'The Force Awakens' is simply everything Star Wars fans hoped for and needed it to be.
The arrival of Abrams has brought about a return to what made these movies great, while at the same time ushering in a new and exciting era. It begins with something Lucas seemed to forget; the use of practical effects to give this universe a tactile, authentic feel. Gone is the glossy, digital vacancy that plagues Lucas' prequels and re-releases. This galaxy feels vibrant and dangerous; it'll make you cower at the site of Kylo Ren's blazing red lightsaber, it'll make you whoop with glee at the roar of Poe Dameron's X-Wing.
Naturally, nobody wants anything spoiled, but know that Star Wars' signature themes are in place. Family, specifically that of the Skywalker clan, is central to the story without being the whole of it. This is also about the next generation of heroes, beginning with Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper in the employ of the First Order, an evil movement created in the wake of the Empire's fall. In a rare show of Stormtrooper individuality, Finn defies his evil orders and assists captured Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), who must deliver top secret plans hidden in his lovable, roly poly droid, BB-8. This puts Finn in the orbit of fearless desert scavenger, Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley, a true revelation) on the planet Jakku. Rey and Finn set out to complete Poe's mission, drawing the unwanted attention of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who wields the dark side of the Force with the viciousness of Darth Vader. All are looking for the same thing; the long-lost Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and the journey brings back familiar faces Han Solo (Harrison Ford), his furry pal Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and General Leia (Carrie Fisher).
An admitted Star Wars fanatic, Abrams' fills the film with multiple homages to the original, from a new wretched hive of scum and villainy to a massive planet-destroying base to a fateful confrontation that tests the bonds of family loyalty. 'The Force Awakens' is totally done in the service to its die-hard fans, and while there are many story beats that feel familiar, so much is fresh that it still has that tingle of unpredictability. The refreshing energy, youth, and diversity of the cast make this a Star Wars film like no other. Boyega, who has looked like a superstar ever since Attack the Block a few years ago, imbues Finn with the roguish leadership qualities of a young Han Solo, while Ridley's Rey may be the best Star Wars character introduced since the original trilogy. She's the kind of character a franchise could be built around....assuming she lives through it, of course!
More than anything else the film hits all of the buttons we want to see. The aerial dogfights have never looked better or been more thrilling, while the lightsaber fights, of which there are a few, are more visceral than the flipping circus acts seen in the prequels. They're also more brutal as a result; when a lightsaber strikes it's a nasty, ugly thing.
There are plenty of surprises to be found, and trust that fans will shed a few years. Hearts will be broken, yes, but spirits will be lifted, as well. While it's possible to quibble about a few things, like the underwhelming use of great actors like Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, and Max Von Sydow, you'll be having too good of a time to quibble. For me, I simply didn't want the movie to end. This is Star Wars as it was always intended to be, and it's good to have it back.
Rating: 4 out of 5