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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' gives franchise a new hope
4.0Overall Score

Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” not surprisingly, arrives as the best “Star Wars” flick since the original trilogy concluded with “Return of the Jedi.” After the dreadful prequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” would have easily appeared a masterpiece by comparison, but thankfully it’s a film worthy of bearing the “Star Wars” insignia in its own right. While it might not be the most unique material, it’s chock full of likable characters, a fun plot, and familiar settings, all of which craft a delightful rejuvenation of a beloved franchise.

With “Star Wars” Episodes I-III, the relationships and personalities that propelled Episodes IV-VI into classics were completely lacking. Thankfully, Episode VII returned to the basics, with a superb group of both newcomers and familiar faces. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is a scavenger on Jakku, a planet not a little like Tatooine. There’s Finn (John Boyega), a reformed stormtrooper from the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is a powerful First Order commander, intent on destroying the Republic. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) plays a hotshot pilot from the Resistance, by his droid BB-8. Then of course a bevy of old friends reappear, including Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterThe general narrative is pretty simple, and rather akin to “A New Hope.” The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, though the Rebels maintain a solid front. A critical mission takes the First Order gallivanting across the galaxy, with the goal of destroying the Republic. However, while it’s essentially “A New Hope” redux, director J.J. cleverly shapes “The Force Awakens” as an homage, rather than copycat. Eschewing the jumbled mess of a plot that was the prequel trilogy, Abrams opts for a simple yet effective story: dark side vs. light side, Republic vs. First Order, good vs. evil. The new characters embody the spirit of characters from the original trilogy, and there’s definitely a cyclical feel which mimics the message of “Terminator 3.” Like Judgment Day, the Empire couldn’t be prevented, only delayed. Kylo Ren bears quite a likeness to Darth Vader, BB-8 channels R2D2, and even pirate Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) recalls the spirit of Yoda.

Further showing reverence for Episodes IV-VI are countless references to the original trilogy. Rey comments, “There are stories about what happened,” to which Han replies “It’s true, all of it. The Dark Side. They Jedi. They’re real.” This amazement and wonder is as if to say that the concept of a good “Star Wars” film is a thing of legend. While locations throughout “The Force Awakens” differ from those in past “Star Wars” flicks, depictions elicit memories of locales like Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor. Plus, several side characters who fans grew to love return (no spoilers!). Even vehicles, such as the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and Star Destroyers litter the skies and ground.

While it’s truly a terrific film that embodies the awesomeness of “A New Hope,” “The Force Awakens” falls into the pit of predictability. Spoilers aren’t really necessary to aid the correct deduction of the big reveals. Those theories you have? Yeah, they’re probably right. Yet the point of Episode VII isn’t to present a “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time,” or “Snape kills Dumbledore” type of twist. Rather, it’s to usher in a new era of a story that began long, long ago. At that, “The Force Awakens” succeeds brilliantly.