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Is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens the Movie We’re Looking for?

As I watched the opening crawl of a brand new Star Wars film, I literally could not keep the smile from my face. Seeing that familiar gold text traveling up the screen, but now, for the first time in ten years, sharing an intro I’d never read before . . . smiling wasn’t just natural, it was mandatory.

When we first heard that Disney had bought Lucusfilm and was planning new movies, many Star Wars fans were groaning and rolling their eyes (myself included). How could Disney possibly do justice to this beloved saga?

But then there was news that the Big Three (Hamill, Ford, Fisher) were returning. Next we found out that J.J. Abrams was involved. Finally . . . we saw the trailers, and maybe, just maybe, there was hope.

So much hype, so much mystery leading up to The Force Awakens, not to mention projections suggesting that it would be a box office behemoth. But regardless of how much money this film makes, regardless of how many people have anticipated this event, is Episode VII the movie we’ve been looking for?

As the words march off into the distance and disappear, we’re left staring into space. And then the camera pans down . . .

“This is where the fun begins.”

NOTE: I will avoid spoilers to the best of my ability, but you may still want to proceed with caution.

Decades after the destruction of the second Death Star, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire, seeking to impose its will on the galaxy but fiercely opposed by the Resistance. The plot centers around a race for one of wartime’s most valuable resources: information. Information that could change the complexion of this galactic struggle.

If you want the classic Star Wars atmosphere back, I’ve got good news for you. If you want solid visual effects without the green screen abuse that George Lucas was notorious for in the prequel trilogy, acting that isn’t overly dramatic or underwhelming, and a plausible story that continues the saga (albeit thirty years later) accompanied by a nostalgic score from John Williams, wish granted. If you want a new chapter in the Star Wars universe that hearkens back to the “good old days,” while still looking forward to the future, The Force Awakens is the movie you’re looking for.

Something old, something new. Star Wars veterans and newcomers. Some of those new faces include Finn, a disillusioned storm trooper running from waking nightmares, Rey, the desert dwelling scavenger, as well as Poe Dameron, the crack-shot pilot – basically the Wedge Antilles of his time.

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Now that I’ve mentioned crack-shot pilots, before I go any further . . .

Episode VII sees the return of X-wings and Tie fighters engaging in dog fights, this you likely already knew. But these are star fighter dog fights like you’ve never seen before. Ace pilots dancing in the sky in space craft that look as though you could reach out and touch them (and I’m not just saying that because I watched in 3D).

While I’m on the subject of space craft . . . the Millennium Falcon. Maybe I don’t need to say more than that because . . . the Millennium Falcon. But here’s the thing, not only is she back, she is better than ever. You’re going to see Han’s “baby” performing maneuvers never before seen.

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Of course, I can’t talk about the Falcon without talking about Han Solo and Chewbacca. The famous odds-defying duo is back and larger than life. Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew slip back into their legendary roles as if they never left them. I’d even go a step further and say that this is the best performance of Harrison Ford’s Star Wars career.

Not to be outdone, Carrie Fisher hands in a good showing as well. While Fisher’s Leia may not get quite as much screen time as Ford and Mayhew, her presence is certainly felt.

Speaking of feeling someone’s presence, the Force is very much alive (or should I say awake) in this film. Especially when it comes to the menacing nature of the Dark Side, which is masterfully represented. Fear, anger, hatred – the raw, dark, unchecked emotion is more tangible than ever, and it’s almost disturbing.

So what’s the deal with Luke Skywalker? Is he a hermit? Is he actually dead? Did he succumb to the Dark Side? Is he, in fact, Kylo Ren as many have speculated? I won’t answer that, but I will say that Kylo’s role is one of the best parts of the film for me. As villains go, he gives Darth Vader a serious run for his money, and his personal story brings a satisfying level of drama to the table.

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In addition to drama, there’s no shortage of comic relief. The Force Awakens has more humor than I have seen in any of its predecessors. The banter between Han and Chewie has never been this aumsing, and the fun doesn’t stop with them as there are plenty of humorous anecdotal gems among the new characters. For the most part, the humor gives the movie the lightheartedness it needs to cut the tension, but there are a handful of moments when it might be a tad excessive.

I’ve mentioned the new characters a few times now, and I think they did an excellent job as they stepped into the galaxy far far away for the first time. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac establish themselves well as Finn and Poe, and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux exhibits more passion for the First Order’s agenda than any of the Imperial officers ever did for the Empire in the original trilogy. I must mention, too, that the dynamic between Kylo Ren and Hux is quite interesting to observe. They must work together, but they clearly don’t respect each other, and there is a considerable degree of contempt between the two. They really make you believe that they’d like nothing more than to strangle each other.

Then there’s BB-8. This little guy will roll his way into your heart from his very first scene. He is spunky and lovable, a worthy addition to the ranks of iconic droids.

Daisy Ridley delivers what is, in my mind, a better-than-expected performance. As Rey, she gets by in the unforgiving desert lands of Jakku, just managing to eke out a living. She is a survivor, and this attribute comes into play numerous times in the story as adversity encroaches upon her.

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If I had to identify any low points, I’d have to say that Captain Phasma isn’t as front and center as I expected. In fact, by the end of the movie, I had actually forgotten about her. No character development there to speak of. Hopefully she is a more prominent figure in the next film. She still looks like a boss in that chrome armor, though.

So overall, while Episode VII may not be perfect, I think it definitely delivers. Waiting for Episode VIII is going to be harder than I thought it would be, especially since The Force Awakens is one of the few Star Wars films that has an ending bearing any resemblance to a cliff hanger. Indeed, Episode VII does a great job setting up the next film. The anticipation is already killing me.

Andrew Walton

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