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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ recaptures both the perfections and imperfections of original trilogy

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Film: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Release date: Dec. 18

Studio: Lucasfilm

Grade: B+

Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers. Do not read if you haven’t seen “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

I left the theater after watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – the film I’d been waiting three years or maybe a whole lifetime, if we’re gonna be dramatic, to see – not sure how to feel.

The film, the seventh of the saga, was definitely fun. It was definitely not anything like the prequels of a decade prior. It definitely felt like “Star Wars.” But there were definitely some issues. I needed to see it again – which I did Saturday.

On that second viewing, I realized the issues I had with the film, the things holding me back from declaring it as good as the original “Star Wars” film or the “Empire Strikes Back,” were the exact issues the original films had.

That’s because “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” recaptures the spirit of the original trilogy. The stories are simple. The humor is done appropriately. The characters make you care about them. There’s not much exposition and there’s often convenient plot devices to get the heroes out of tricky situations. It emulates the original trilogy’s perfections and imperfections.

If you can accept that, you’ll see “The Force Awakens” as an enjoyable film deserving of a spot next to the original trilogy and a good launching off point for a new trilogy to be completed over the next four years.

Let’s be honest. Director J.J. Abrams’ emphasis on practical effects, the return of original cast members Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and the mess that was the three prequel films, would be enough give fans a nostalgia trip and make them enjoy “The Force Awakens.”

But the film goes above and beyond to make you feel like you’re watching “Star Wars” again.

The film is set some 30 years after “Return of the Jedi,” where the First Order has picked up where the evil Empire left off and the Rebel Alliance, now called the Resistance, fights back against them. From the opening crawl – which is great by the way – we learn last of the Jedi Luke Skywalker (Hamill) has vanished.

Conveniently, there’s a map that leads to where he is and that map is hidden inside cute new droid BB8, which leads the characters off to find Luke and destroy the First Order’s new Death Star – I mean Starkiller Base.

That’s where some start to have issues with the film. The plot is almost the same as the original “Star Wars” film released in 1977. The thing everyone wants is hidden in a droid running around on a desert planet and there’s another Death Star our heroes need to blow up.

Give the filmmakers a pass on that one. “Force Awakens” needed a simple plot we could all follow to restart the universe. Besides, fans would complain if the movie was too different from the original movies. And the film even pokes fun at this, as Ford’s Han Solo comments “there’s always a way to blow these things up.”

Don’t forget we forgave “Return of the Jedi” for redoing the Death Star plot.

But “Force Awakens” captures the real reason everyone loved the original trilogy: the characters. Just like the original cast, the new cast of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all deliver, have chemistry with one another and most importantly make you care about them.

Ridley, an unknown before “Force Awakens,” showed she could hold the weight of being this new trilogy’s protagonist. The film’s marketing tried to make you think Boyega’s Finn character is the Jedi of this new trilogy – he’s not. It’s Rey.

But Finn, a defected stormtrooper, also helps make this movie. His nervousness makes the action scenes feel more real, humorous and fun.

We don’t get to see much of Isaac’s Poe Dameron character, as the film unsuccessfully tries to make you think he’s dead for about 45 minutes. But the time the Resistance’s best pilot is on screen, he’s funny and likeable.

Driver’s Kylo Ren really works as the new bad guy. Some will complain he’s not very menacing once he takes off the mask and we learn he’s just the conflicted son of Han Solo and Princess – now General – Leia trying to emulate his masked and heavy breathing grandfather.

I think it gives him so much more depth. We haven’t seen a villain like him in “Star Wars.” And of course, the film allows us to see his growth into a real bad guy; the moment he kills his father Han Solo.

Every fan knew there was around a 95 percent chance of a Han Solo death in this movie, based on the fact Ford is 73 years old and famously always wanted his character to die in “Return of the Jedi.” And the scene itself is a bit telegraphed, as every person in the theater probably knew what was about to happen as Solo approaches Kylo on a bridge that looks very reminiscent of where another famous “Star Wars” father-and-son moment took place.

But it pulls at the heartstrings nonetheless. Chewbacca’s roar really sells it.

When Ford is on screen as Solo, it works. He doesn’t seem like a guy just trying to play a character he played 30 years prior. His banter with Chewbacca may just be the funniest its ever been.

Having Ford play such a crucial role in this first film and then give him the death he always wanted is the right way to go. As much as fans would love to see Ford, Hamill and Fisher all on the screen together one last time, it just wouldn’t make sense from a story standpoint.

The characters, like the original trilogy, make the film.

Things do seem to come together for our heroes a little too easily at times. Finn suddenly remembers he knows the Starkiller Base’s weakness. Rey uses a Jedi mind trick despite having never seen one been done before. R2-D2 just feels like revealing he has the rest of the map to Luke at the very end.

But as much as I want to knock this element of the movie, the original films were the same way. Two torpedoes down an exhaust port only two meters wide blow up the whole Death Star? Ewoks take out the Empire's best troops? Come on.

And the film also doesn’t do much to establish what exactly has happened in the 30 years since “Return of the Jedi.” We know Luke tried to train new Jedi, but Kylo turned to the Dark Side and led a revolt against him – causing Luke to go into hiding and Han and Leia to split up. But that’s about it. There’s a scene where the First Order blows up the Republic, but prior to that we didn’t really know a Republic had been established or how.

But the original films weren’t heavy on the exposition either – the prequels were and everyone hated it. All we know in the original “Star Wars” is that the Empire destroyed the Jedi and Darth Vader killed Luke’s father. That was all we needed to know.

If you’re hoping to get all the answers from this film, be prepared to be disappointed. I left the theater frustrated I still didn’t know who Rey’s parents are, what Luke has been up to and whether or not Supreme Leader Snoke is actually Darth Plagueis.

But we must remember this is the first of three films. The original “Star Wars” didn’t give us all the answers, like Vader being Luke’s father. We had to wait to see the whole trilogy.

If you can take off the nostalgia goggles and realize the original “Star Wars” films weren’t perfect either – you’ll be OK with the fact that “Force Awakens” isn’t perfect. It’s still a very good “Star Wars” film that feels like “Star Wars” and looks to be starting off a new trilogy that will feel like “Star Wars.”

Tom Dinki is the editor in chief and can be reached at tom.dinki@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tomdinki.


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