It’s been 39 years since the words “May the force be with you” were uttered. During that time we’ve had two sequels and then gone back to see the earlier portions of the story of STAR WARS told on three more films. Some were good, most were great. We were witness to an unspeakable evil and the birth of a new hero. There was magic when that first film came out, an unexpected mega-giant of a film franchise where story always came first. That legacy carries on as we venture into a new set of heroes combined with the old.
So the story first. On a mission to get information back to the resistance, pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is captured by the First Order but not before he passes that information on to his droid, BB-8. As the First Order kills everyone in the village Poe was in, one of the Stormtroopers (later named Fin and played by John Boyega) develops a conscience and wants nothing more than to leave the Order. And so he helps Poe escape.
Fin and Poe crash with Fin the only apparent survivor. He looks for help and comes across Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger of parts who has found BB-8. As the First Order attacks the planet, Rey and Fin jump into the only spaceship in the port to escape, a beat up old piece of junk that we fans immediately recognize as the Millennium Falcon.
They get away only to be captured by a freighter no doubt trying to collect the bounty on their heads. But when the doors open who should appear but Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca. Which of course leads to yet another encounter with several parties that Solo owes money to resulting in the release of some terrible creatures he has captured and another barely making an escape moment.
We learn as the movie continues that with the demise of the Empire the dark side has given rise to a new group, the earlier mentioned First Order. Led by the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) this group is still at war with the resistance which is still led by Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Snoke’s main enforcer, a replacement if you will for Darth Vader, is one Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of Leia and Han. Kylo was trained by Luke only to destroy the rest of the Jedi Knights in training which caused Luke to blame himself and leave everyone behind. The information BB-8 possesses is a map to Luke and both the resistance and the First Order want to find him. Toss in a new death star on steroids, a few spaceship dogfights and a lightsaber duel and you have a welcome addition to the series.
The extras on this package will keep you busy for hours. Included are a full length documentary on the making of the film called SECRETS OF THE FORCE AWAKENS. Also are featurettes that include one with a table read by the cast, the creations of BB-8, crafting the creatures in the film, the development of the lightsaber duel, a look at John Williams creating movie for the seventh time in this series of films and a look at ILM and the effects team. Deleted scenes have also been included. Best of all is that the digital version of the film included you can watch the movie anywhere, any time. That’s always a worthwhile bonus.
Now that we have the story and extras out of the way let’s talk about this movie. As a fan let me say it delivers on all levels. It’s great. It inspires. It does all the things that every one of the previous films has done but leaves behind the things fans didn’t like about episodes 1-3 and returns the things we loved about 4-6.
The first of those is the hero. Some might consider a hero to be a person who picks up a gun at the right time. But as this film shows there is more to being a hero than that. A hero is someone who has a cause, a cause that he/she is willing to fight for and lay down their life for. This film has an abundance of heroes, old and new. It’s nice to see a film in today’s world that presents a hero for what they should be.
The movie has a tremendous story that at times feels like a rehashing of sequences from previous films while being its own movie at the same time. It feels great to see the old characters brought back to tie into the earlier films and at the same time the new characters are ones that there is little doubt we will develop the same affection for with each new movie. The effects are mind boggling, as always the best of the best and most up to date to be found and yet the movie doesn’t rely on just the effects.
There is something much more to this movie that isn’t seen on the screen. That’s the love for these movies, for these characters, that is felt by every single person who has grown fond of the films. I saw this film in the theater and I think I enjoyed it more this time around, not having to learn who was who.
But there was one thing that happened while watching it this time that happened on my first viewing. That was a feeling of joy at seeing these people reunited again, of seeing those familiar things like the Millennium Falcon on screen and realizing that these stories, this mythology, will carry on.
When I first saw that spaceship I kind of teared up. When Han and Chewbacca appeared the same thing happened. And at various times throughout the film, as the story of their son, of Luke leaving it all behind and with the last shot in the film (I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t seen it) as well as one of the most devastating sequences that happens shortly prior to that I felt that sense of wonder I had as a young child seeing a movie that was larger than life unfold before my eyes for the first time. That wide-eyed amazement we all felt the first time we saw something that big on the screen. It gives me hope that there is a chance young people will grow up with stories like these yet to be told. What better legacy to leave with a series of films that began with the subtitle “A New Hope”. A definite add for your collection.