Let’s cut to the space chase: Relax, it’s nothing like those three misbegotten prequels.
J.J. Abrams, who’s been described as a professional franchise caretaker director (Mission Impossible III and some of those Star Trek romps), is also no fool. He has carefully studied what the fans want, as well as what they don’t want. No irritating new characters like Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks, no repetitious video-game sequences or bratty kids; none of the things that sunk Episodes 1 through 3.
It aspires to remain true to the spirit of the 1977 original, and mostly it does. My only gripe is that it’s trying so hard to do so that sometimes it seems more like a remake than a sequel.
The new young leads are appealing. Daisy Ridley plays “Rey,” a plucky salvage scavenger on a junk planet who may or may not have some, um, forceful powers. She’s the Luke Skywalker figure of this reboot. And John Boyega is a turncoat Storm Trooper named “Finn” trying to help out the rebels. Adam Driver, a tantrum-throwing young Darth Vader wannabe, is less impressive, and the lack of a strong villain saps some of the film’s suspense.
And then we have the casting coup of the millennium: getting Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, as Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia to reprise their roles nearly 40 years later. Most of the action work goes to Harrison, but Carrie gives a warm and believable performance. Mark Hamill is also in the movie. Other new characters include the red-hot Oscar Isaac as an ace X-wing pilot, and Supreme Leader Snoke is expertly portrayed by motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis (LOTR’s Gollum).
And don’t forget the cute little soccer-ball robot called BB-8, currently heading for a Christmas stocking near you. I bought two in the lobby.
The movie is wonderfully self-aware, in both a retro and a modern sense. It knows it’s mainly a legacy movie. Even the new young characters are fans of the historical deeds performed by Solo and Chewbacca in the original trilogy. This is brilliant; it restores the fun to the franchise.
At its core, this is a fan-service movie, a greatest hits collection—but it’s an honest one. It loses a few points for playing it too safe. By the time our heroes walked into the cantina, the déjà vu was getting pretty heavy.
When I walked out of San Francisco’s Coronet Theater on Geary Street in 1977, I couldn’t wait to run and tell all my friends to go and see Star Wars. This time, I won’t do that because … well, they’re all going to see it anyway. But in this one, I never felt like standing up and cheering, and the most moving scene for me was the sight of the Millennium Falcon rising out of mothballs and soaring off to battle a resurgent Dark Side. This is telling because we’re talking about a machine.
It can’t have been easy to make this film given the power of the FanForce, but J.J. et al. have risen to the challenge. And even if it doesn’t always fire on all cylinders, it’s energetic, paced in hyperdrive and very entertaining. It is not, however, a masterpiece. You won’t leave the theater disappointed. But a good film—even a very good film like this one—delivers everything we want; a great film brings us things we didn’t even know we wanted. Cryptic, I am. Japanese title: Star Wars: Force no Kakusei. (135 min)