For months, the newest entry in the Star Wars franchise has been highly anticipated and held to a standard that was lost when the prequels premiered. However, unlike the almost universally disappointing trilogy that started in the 90s, The Force Awakens proved to bring Star Wars back to the sincere fun and excitement that the originals were known for. As the first Star Wars film to be produced by Disney and the first to feature the famous trio Han Solo, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens definitely does not disappoint. The past year has been filled with anticipatory books, TV shows, comics, and games, and now the fans can finally see what it has all been leading up to.
Directed by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens takes place some thirty years after the end of Return of the Jedi, in a galaxy that has moved on and yet seems familiar to viewers. The Empire has lingered on and re-emerged as the First Order, complete with stormtroopers, multiple sinister key leaders, and the dark side of the Force. Meanwhile the Rebels have successfully founded their own government of the Republic, but the focus lingers on the Resistance, a group led by now-General Leia Organa who fight against the First Order.
Caught in between are new characters: stormtrooper with a conscience, Finn (John Boyega), the best pilot in the galaxy, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and his best droid friend BB-8, and desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Finn and Rey have particular chemistry together as they find themselves reluctantly swept up in events larger than they’d anticipated.
The majority of the film centers on the First Order and Resistance’s race to find Luke Skywalker, who has gone missing in the years since Return of the Jedi. Enter Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca the Wookiee (Peter Mayhew) who have likewise found themselves on the run and are drawn back into events concerning the missing Luke. The story becomes a surprisingly poignant tale of family relationships and mysteries, punctuated by tense scenes of action - both on the ground and in the air.
New villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a standout, both in terms of story and his presence in the Force. This new dark side user has several Force powers that have never been seen before, including one ability that will quite literally have everybody frozen in surprise. His lightsaber, a topic of much discussion online, comes into play several times in both well-choreographed fight scenes and a surprising moment of levity.
The film’s simple humor is natural and unforced throughout, giving us comical relief during scenes we need it the most. The script, written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt, works best at its moments of lightheartedness and wonder. Finn’s confusion and bluffing, Rey’s self-assuredness, Han’s parental gruffness, and Kylo Ren’s menace and emotional gloom are all standouts. Rey and Finn serve as dual protagonists similar to but unlike the sorts that we’ve seen in previous first installments of Star Wars trilogies. Rey in particular has the vulnerability of a young Anakin Skywalker and yearning of Luke on the farm, but has a confidence that both lacked.
Speaking of Luke, the question of his whereabouts and activities were answered by the film albeit raising even more questions whose answers would have to wait until Episode VIII in 2017. Suffice to say that several theories were disproved. Other theories were correct, mostly regarding character relationships and plot points. It should also be safely noted that Jakku is definitively not Tatooine.
This new era of Star Wars was met with trepidation by fans who had grown comfortable with years of an expanded universe that stretched well into the future of the Star Wars universe and are now part of the Star Wars Legends line. The Star Wars series is now expanding again, with books such as Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath, comics like Vader Down, and the television series Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: Droid Tales. A year from now, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set to be released, and the yet-untitled Star Wars: Episode VIII a year after that. If The Force Awakens is any indication, now is the perfect time to be a Star Wars fan.