REVIEW: A Newer Hope — ‘Force Awakens’ brings exciting, if familiar return to Star Wars

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Madison Chan, Staff Writer

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.

The force was certainly strong with this newest installment of the Star Wars films, shattering box office records as fans of every age flocked to theaters across the nation to once again witness the thrill only lightsabers and X-wing fighters can provide.

Episode VII of the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, follows the efforts of the Resistance to combat the First Order, a malevolent force that has sprung from the defeated Empire. A droid by the name of BB-8 is entrusted with a map that supposedly leads to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has long since disappeared. The First Order is determined to seize the map before it can be returned to the Resistance, but luckily, a new generation of unlikely heroes rises to the challenge, aided by a couple of more familiar heroes, whose names have become legend.

The Force Awakens was certainly a well-crafted film. The special effects lived up to Lucasfilms’ iconic excellence, with the Imperial ships looming overhead and the keening drone of lightsabers sparking and clashing so close that their energy was almost palpable. The story was interesting and well thought out with surprises littered throughout the film. The fight scenes were worthy of any heart-racing action film, yet there were still elements of humor and flashbacks to the originals that generated an appreciative laugh from fans of all ages. Director J.J. Abrams had huge shoes to fill when he – for one film, at least – took George Lucas’s spot at the head of the Star Wars franchise, but almost all watchers would acknowledge that he did a commendable job.

However, there were times that the film resembled its predecessors a little too much. A soon-to-be-captured member of the rebel force entrusting a droid with essential data? A large spherical weapon that fires a planet-destroying laser, which happens to have a weakness that can be reached and exploited by X-Wing fighters? The brilliance of Star Wars lies in its originality—the original trilogy presented stories and ideas that captivated the audience’s imagination. When a story, even a well-told one, fails to break new ground, it loses something.

However, it bears notice that Abrams was faced with a considerable challenge. The audience for the movie would be vast and extremely varied. This movie had to appeal not only to the die-hard fans who could quote Return of the Jedi by heart, but also those who were completely new to the cinematic universe and didn’t know the difference between a wookiee and an ewok. If the film did remind fans a little too much of the original trilogy, it could be for the sake of bridging the gap. As a good film, it hooks viewers and introduces them to the story without requiring a working knowledge of Star Wars. One has to keep in mind that there are several more on their way; the untitled Episode VIII has a planned release for May 2017, and Disney’s Star Wars spinoffs will kick off in December of 2016 with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Though the story wasn’t the most innovative, a new cast of characters provides many avenues for expansion. Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman who has an uncanny connection with the Force, proves to be a strong female lead, and her mysterious background may signal a series of twists and turns for the upcoming movies. And although Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) seemed to lack the evil aura and terror-inducing nature of a classic Star Wars villain (General Grievous comes to mind) his tortured inner battle between the Light side and the Dark side may prove to unearth a villain that rivals even Darth Vader.

Overall, The Force Awakens quenched the thirst of many fans for a triumphant return to the Star Wars universe; it may have had a few shortfalls as a successor to one of the most loved movie epics of all time, but succeeded in creating a terrific film. Whether you’re a Star Wars super fan or a newbie, The Force Awakens is a definite must-see.

Rating: 8.5/10