Star Wars shows Hollywood how it's really done in this introduction of a new trilogy.
Among all of the unnecessary sequels, reboots and remakes, the Star Wars franchise stands unparalleled and untouched. After the first trilogy in the late '70s and early '80s, the second trilogy brought the franchise to a new generation with Episode I: The Phantom Menace in 1999 and the following films, each as much a box office and critical success as those of the first trilogy. The epic saga returns ten years after the release of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in 2005, and it continues to show Hollywood how it's really done.
Three decades have passed since the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), has disappeared. The First Order has grown from the ashes of the fallen Galactic Empire to take control of the galaxy, but the Resistance fights back with its leader General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Despite their opposition, they share the same goal: to find Luke.
General Organa sends her best pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to obtain a map that is meant to lead to Luke's location. However, before he can leave the planet Jakku with it, Stormtroopers arrive and under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) capture Poe. His droid BB-8, though, manages to escape with the map. BB-8 stumbles upon a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley), who rescues him from becoming scrap metal, and clings to her.
Desperate to find Skywalker, Ren uses the Force to torture the information about BB-8 out of Poe. He thus sends a group of Stormtroopers to find the droid. Meanwhile, Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega), disgusted by the First Order's cruel ways, decides to help Poe escape by pretending to escort him as a prisoner. The two steal a fighter but end up crashing back on Jakku with Finn, as Poe decides to call him, the only survivor of the crash.
In desperate search for water on the dry deserts of Jakku, Finn comes to a village where he meets Rey and BB-8. He lies about his status as a Stormtrooper and instead claims to be part of the Resistance, hence the fact that he wears Poe's jacket, the only surviving part of the pilot. Before he can explain the situation further, the First Order's attack arrives, and the trio flee and are forced to steal a junkyard ship, the Millennium Falcon. They escape the planet in search of the Resistance base to deliver the map in BB-8.
The Force Awakens manages to do so much in so little time and do it so well. The story progresses at a steady pace and is direct and simple, moving from character to character organically so that we're introduced to new ones and reunited with old ones in a way that keeps the audience completely engaged. The lovely bits of nostalgia give us what we expect, but the film is far from derivative, as it has a jolt of new energy and fun that keeps it modern. This balance alone -- managing to marry an homage to the past and a connection to the new characters and narrative -- makes The Force Awakens a success.
But the film doesn't stop there. With its heart-pounding action sequences and fantastic special effects, it strikes the right emotional chords as well with perfect doses of humor and sentimentality, and it's all because of its strong cast with nary a weak link. Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega more than hold their own against veterans Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, bringing both the mettle and the emotional depth that have made Star Wars characters so beloved to a new generation.
Some may complain that director J.J. Abrams relied a bit heavily on the original Star Wars, but that is exactly what this film needs. It is the start of another trilogy, and it needs to pay its respects and bridge the gap before venturing into new territory. The Force Awakens brilliantly weaves the old with the new and sets the stage for the next generation of Star Wars.
Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and Disney.