The very first Star Wars movie I saw was the Empire Strikes Back. The original film when it was originally released back in 1980. I was 4 and ESB was the first film to ever capture my heart and few films since have ever been able to do what ESB had. Eventually I got around to seeing episode 4 (the original Star Wars) and episode 6. Since I saw the films out of order it took a minute for me to grasp the grand scope of the original trilogy. And after seeing all those films, in order, my appreciation for them has grown even more. Even the much weaker prequels didn’t delude my taste for the saga (contrary to other people, George Lucas and his prequel trilogy did NOT ruin my childhood or dampen my love for the work as a whole).
So flash forward some thirty years after Return of the Jedi we, well, return to the galaxy far far away, in The Force Awakens. And much like the time it took to make a true sequel to ROTJ almost as much time has passed in the Star Wars universe itself. We pick up an entire generation after the ending of the original trilogy (OT). Luke, Leia, Han and those merry band of rebels have become legends, a kind of urban legends actually in the current galaxy they inhabit. Luke himself has become a mythical figure to many. But the focus isn’t on the original cast. This is a new generation, facing similar problems and conflicts that the one before them did in the guise of the First Order, and off shoot of the defunct empire. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley carry the first quarter of the film on their own and their enthusiasm and life they bring to their characters and the movie itself is fantastic. Along with the chemistry shared between them which works from the moment Finn (Boyega’s character) lays eyes on Ridley’s Rey, the little droid that comes along for the adventure, BB-8, is a great inclusion to the star wars universe, almost rivaling R2-D2 in cuteness and attitude.
It’s not until close to the halfway point that a couple of familiar faces show up in Han Solo and Chewbacca. The film shifts gears and the familiarity fans of the original films comes back in droves. Han is still Han and Chewie is still Chewie, just older. Harrison Ford’s performance of the old scoundrel is just as good as ever, I’ll even say better than his last turn as Solo in ROTJ. It’s clear that Ford shares some kind of fondness and respect for the character that made him a superstar , bringing the same self confidence, crassness and humor he had from the original films, though this Han is a little wiser, and maybe a tad more patient. The heart and soul of the movie lies with Han Solo and Chewbacca while the new casts bring the energy, humor (and there’s plenty of it to be found in this film) and optimism that seemed to be lacking in the prequels. Carrie Fisher does a serviceable job reprising her role as Princ…strike that, General Leia (she’s more of a glorified cameo than anything in this film so her performance is understandable). Adam driver is intimidating yet occasionally (and surprisingly) vulnerable and semi-evil (he’s more conflicted than flat out evil, unlike his predecessors in Vader and the Emperor) as Kylo Ren, though just as formidable and almost as powerful as Vader. Oscar Issac is great as Poe Dameron, the “best pilot” in the resistance. He’s Under used, but when he’s in the film, his character and skills definitely pay off. Speaking of underused, I really hope we see more of Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phazma in the next film.
Star Wars the Force Awakens feels like a continuation of the OT. Though it takes place an entire generation later with mostly new characters, new scenery and even new droids, the fun, adventure and quality that made the OT great is found in this film. It feels like a Star Wars film, feels like it belongs to those original films and not just some addition to it that has Star Wars in the title. Much of that goes to J.J. Abrams direction. Obviously his fondness for the work that came before and the love he had for those first three films comes through in the way he captures every scene, every character and bit of action in this movie, giving a much needed jolt of fun that the prequels missed in certain aspects. It’s been over thirty years since we’ve seen our old friends from the OT and the wait, for many fans like myself, was truly worth it.