The original Star Wars films are some of the most iconic and beloved in the history of cinema, a bona fide phenomenon whose popularity has never waned and whose influence has permeated every facet of popular culture. It’s been more than 30 years since Return of the Jedi opened on theaters screens across the world, and after a poorly received series of prequel films, most fans had given up on the idea of another cinematic adventure.
But Disney’s 2012 acquisition of Lucasfilm paved the way for the Star Wars universe to be revisited, and as development progressed on a seventh installment of the franchise, longtime fans were elated to learn that original series stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill would reprise their roles. With director J.J. Abrams at the helm and a cast of talented young stars onboard, would The Force Awakens be able to return the Star Wars films to their former glory?
“This will begin to make things right” is the first line of dialogue spoken in the film, and the next two hours are spent trying to make good on that promise. Working from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams goes to great lengths to constantly remind his audience that this is a Star Wars film, through and through. There’s an undeniable sense of wonder and excitement here that was sorely lacking from the prequels, and a respect and reverence for the mythology of this universe is evident in every frame of The Force Awakens.
As a fan, it’s great to be reunited with characters that we’ve loved for so long, with Ford’s return to the role of Han Solo being a particular high point. Not only is Solo every bit as charismatic and entertaining as he was in the original trilogy, but Ford seems barely able to contain his excitement at stepping into the shoes of the intergalactic smuggler one more time. There’s a beautiful moment near the beginning of the second act where Solo smiles to himself while he stands in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, and it’s clear that both the character and the performer are thankful to be home again.
As much as we love spending time with some old friends, The Force Awakens is about the next generation, and the new characters introduced here are destined to be every bit as cherished as the heroes (and villains) of the original films. Relative newcomer Daisy Ridley turns in a star-making performance as Rey, a scavenger who dreams of finding adventure, while Oscar Isaac dials up the charm as fearless X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s energetic and earnest portrayal of First Order runaway Finn provides several of the most memorable moments.
But the biggest standout of The Force Awakens is Adam Driver’s masked villain, Kylo Ren, a disciple of the Dark Side whose powers are matched only by his brutality. He exudes menace whenever he appears on the screen, with his quiet, careful manner of speaking barely obscuring the rage bubbling just beneath the surface. Ren has a major part to play in nearly every pivotal moment, and will likely be the character that sparks the most discussion after the credits roll.
Now that we’ve talked about the characters, it’s time to address the story, and this is where The Force Awakens falls a bit short. Borrowing heavily from the structure and themes of the original Star Wars trilogy, the film often feels like more of a reboot than a new adventure, trying too hard to invoke nostalgia rather than establish its own identity. There are some great original ideas here, but most of them are surrounded by things we’ve seen before, and it’s difficult not to be disappointed by thoughts of what might have been.
That being said, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still a solid entry into the franchise, and a successful return to form after the dreadful prequels. It’s funny, exciting, tragic, and entertaining from start to finish, painstakingly crafted with love and respect, and imbued with countless little details that longtime fans will be able to analyze and appreciate. It may not be the best Star Wars film, but it’s a damn good one, and our faith in the future of the series has been restored.