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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 26, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Iconic sequel ‘awakens’ nostalgic ‘Star Wars’ fans

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

“Star Wars,” originally released in 1977, may be the single most iconic film of all time. Character names like Han Solo, Princess Leia and R2-D2 have entered the popular lexicon, as has Han’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. Expectations for a sequel to the 1983 “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” have proven to be astronomical. Prequel films, in the meantime, have failed to satisfy fans.

Attempting to answer fans’ requests, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” now faces the unenviable task of living up to its original namesake, and it must bring something new to the table. With deep characters and a nostalgic plot, “The Force Awakens” pays respect to the previous “Star Wars” films and creates intrigue about the future of the “Star Wars” franchise, but it plays it a bit safe.

The plot of “The Force Awakens” may seem eerily similar to fans of the original 1977 film. The First Order controls the galaxy, but a map inside a BB-8 droid holds a key to stopping its rule. It’s up to an ex-Stormtrooper looking for redemption, Finn (John Boyega), and a scavenger from the planet Jakku, Rey (Daisy Ridley), to deliver the droids’ message to the rebel alliance and stop the empire. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a key official in the first order, struggles with his family history.

The plot is a retread of “A New Hope,” and this is among the biggest flaws of the film. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that this story has been told before, only with different characters slotted into the roles of Han, Luke, Leia and Darth Vader. There is one scene that exemplifies this exactly.The Rebels devise a plan to beat the First Order, and the movie highlights methods for victory similar to those in the original “Star Wars.” This draws attention to the feeling that “The Force Awakens” is just a fresh coat of paint over a simple story. This paint is great though, and “The Force Awakens” has some exhilarating scenes that are visually stunning.

John Williams provides the score once more, and the classic “Star Wars” sound effects are exceptional. The sounds of a lightsaber or a blaster are instantly recognizable. Williams score sets the film up to be huge in scale, and it merges seamlessly with the broad visuals.

The thick layer of nostalgia works well with the new characters. Finn looks to have loads of potential, with “The Force Awakens” only scratching the surface of his life as a Stormtrooper with a soul. Kylo Ren undergoes major character development in the film, but he can still come off as a very whiny and incompetent villain. This works, as he’s a very young villain, but it does lower the stakes of the film when the main villain seems petulant. Rey, the main character of the film, is unfortunately a bit too powerful. She never struggles to do anything, be it fly a spaceship or use the force. Her exceptionally high skill brings the whole movie down because it’s hard to rally behind someone who seems to excel at everything. Even still, she isn’t annoying or offensive, and her interactions with the rest of the cast are enjoyable to watch. Rey and Finn are joined by BB-8, an adorable droid that provides levity throughout.

Rounding out the cast are the veteran “Star Wars” players Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew as Han Solo and Chewbacca, respectively. Chewbacca stands out, for he has a number of character moments that can be both funny and heartbreaking. It’s a joy to see Han Solo again on the big screen, and Harrison Ford does not disappoint. The classic characters are treated with respect, and they bring out the best in the new players. While the plot is a retread, the hefty cast of characters is enough to carry the film. No single character is boring and no moment was a waste of time.

The best moment in “The Force Awakens” occurs about 15 seconds into the film, where the viewer is bombarded with signature moments. A LucasArts logo appears, followed by text: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Then, in all its golden splendor, the words “Star Wars” appear, accompanied by the blaring horns that signal the beginning of the main “Star Wars” theme. The opening crawl begins, as do the goosebumps. There’s an intrinsic joy in hearing a lightsaber or seeing a classic character. “The Force Awakens” may not be as good as the original “Star Wars,” and at times, it can feel like it’s striving to do just that. “The Force Awakens” could be confused for a remake of the original “Star Wars,” but it still manages to breathe new life into the franchise with fresh characters and nostalgic moments.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams and written by George Lucas.