I was 12 years old in 1977 when the sci-fi world was forever changed by a surprise film that dominated theaters unlike anything before it. I vividly remember sitting in my seat as that massive star destroyer lurched ominously overhead, transporting an entire audience to a new frontier. Sadly, my initial enthusiasm eroded as the years went by and the release of the plot-challenged prequels only served to solidify my distance. The news of a new installment of films struck me as interesting, but nothing I felt all that excited about.
So here we are, with Episode VII kicking off supposedly the last three chapters of an epic tale dating back nearly four decades. Disney pulled out all of the stops. They bought the franchise from its creator, George Lucas, and handed the reigns to action-loving director J.J. Abrams. Would the fans accept his new take on the story, or would this be the end?
The plot follows the trials of guilt-ridden stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) as he fights to break free of his First Order brainwashing. The troubled young warrior convinces his enemy, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), to help him escape the Order. In return, he agrees to join Poe in delivering highly secretive data back to the leaders of the Resistance. The First Order uncovers the plot and sets out to intercept them at all costs. The pair run into trouble while the sensitive documents inadvertently end up in the hands of a scrappy young scrounger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). Until this day, hers was a world dominated by a struggle to simply survive. Resistance fighters, Jedi warriors and The Force are all just legends of a distant past. It’s a past that suddenly bursts into the present, bringing with it an adventure that she could have never possibly conceived.
From its very first frames, this new entry gives ardent followers of the series everything that they hoped for and more. Countless scenes immediately transport the viewer back to the beginning with an attention to detail beyond every expectation. The visuals are just the beginning. They’re not just exceptional, but are also eerily familiar. Abrams somehow managed to re-create every angle, costume, character and conversation with an ease that would only seem possible with a time machine.
The narrative itself also borrows heavily on past story arcs — perhaps a tad too much for its own good. There’s an abundant dose of déjà vu beyond the return of past beloved characters that’s simply impossible to ignore. At times, it feels as if an efficiency expert with a bad case of OCD was put in charge of the script. Obligatory cantina scene? Check. Land speeder scene? Check. Thankfully, it amounts to only a minor distraction.
The necessary nostalgic nods all more or less work out with a few insignificant exceptions. The real power of the film comes from its boundless energy — not exactly a surprise with Abrams at the helm. His is a supersized Star Wars. Everything is bigger, including the laughs. This is a Star Wars equally adept at enticing the old fan and the new. The Force is strong with this one.