The Rundown: 4 out of 5 Stars
Star Wars‘ triumphant return to the big screen after a decades long absence did not disappoint. While it does adhere very closely in structure to A New Hope, The Force Awakens adds in enough new goodness to get excited about in the next era of Star Wars.

I remember when Force Awakens was announced. It was exciting, but also concerning. After nearly ten years since a main entry title was seen on the big screen, could Disney do what Lucas had failed to do ten years before? Expand the Star Wars universe while staying true to the things that had attracted fans to Star Wars in the first place? When the night finally came (of course I saw it at midnight opening weekend) I was prepared for disappointment. When I exited the theater I was awed. I was intrigued. While the movie has flaws, it had recaptured some of that Star Wars magic that had kept me invested in that galaxy far, far away for decades.

The Force Awakens takes place thirty years after the events depicted in Return of the Jedi. The New Republic, established after the battle of Endor, is in a cold war with remnants of the Empire called The First Order. Luke Skywalker has vanished, and the Resistance, an ‘unaffiliated’ military group fighting The First Order is determined to track him down. We start with a Resistance pilot named Poe Dameron retrieving a map that may have clues as to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts from the planet Jakku. Before he can get the data to the Resistance, a mysterious First Order general named Kylo Ren descends upon him with a contingent of stormtroopers. Poe is able to stow the map onto his droid BB-8 before he is captured by The First Order, commanding him to make his way back to the Resistance as soon as he can. BB-8 is found by a junk-trader named Rey, an orphan who has spent her whole life in the deserts of Jakku, and they start on a journey to get the map to the Resistance.

Despite the new names and faces in The Force Awakens, it is very clear that director J.J. Abrams stayed very closely to the structure of A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie. Replace Skywalker Map with Death Star Plans, Resistance with Rebellion, and many of the beats are the same. It even has a planet-sized superweapon, almost six times larger than the Death Star, that destroys planets. This weapon becomes the final set piece, with another space assault reminiscent of the Trench Run from the first Star Wars. For many fans, this is an unforgiveable sin, a poor copy that fails to live up to the expectations of ten years. Still, as soon as J.J. Abrams was announced I pretty much expected something like this, and I don’t think it’s that big of a deal.

Similar to when J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek in 2009, you had an entire generation of kids who may not have seen a single Star Wars movie or show. It had been nearly 10 years since Star Wars had really been on the big screen, and for some they’d need an entirely new introduction to the universe.

For the initiated, we had the old names and faces, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia Organa, all reprised by their original actors. Older, with some scars, but they helped create a through line from the original, while helping make way for the new narrative.

The new kids would have their own heroes and villains. Rey and Poe, distinct from Luke and Han. Kylo Ren, an unstable young villain, still coming into his full power training with the mysterious Snoke. He isn’t a Darth Vader with his terse menace and subtle chokeholds, but raw and frenetic with an energy all his own. As a fan it was great to see an expansion of the story, to set the stage of what would come next, and I appreciated the things that were put there for me, as well as the things that were intended for a new audience.

While divisive, The Force Awakens set the stage for a revitalization of Star Wars. Without its success we may not have gotten the newer entries like The Mandalorian, or Rebels, which tell amazingly distinct stories, while still feeling like part of Star Wars. For that at least, I think most fans can agree that The Force Awakens played an integral part in the future of Star Wars, even if parts of it fell short of their expectations. I can’t wait for the epic conclusion to the Skywalker saga, to see if under Disney’s watchful eye they can deliver on a story 42 years in the making.


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