Opening to much hype and acclaim, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the latest iteration based on the stories created by George Lucas in the 1970's and brought to the big screen. This movie was co-written, directed and produced by J.J. Abrams who also directed the most recent Star Trek movies. Many of the actors who starred in the original three movies can be found in The Force Awakens; Harrison Ford as Han Solo, Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Anthony Daniels as CP30, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, Tim Rose as Admiral Ackbar and Mike Quinn and Nien Nunb.
The movie's plot line invokes many of the original story lines from the original Star Wars movie in 1977: a young character who has lost his/her family is drawn reluctantly into a confrontation with the evil forces in the galaxy, only to discover their own innate ability to use the force. The person leading the evil is a corrupted member of a family who has used the force for good.
The Force Awakens is set thirty years after the destruction of the Death Star. The evil Galactic Empire has been overthrown and the New Republic governs the galaxy. However, the remnants of the empire have formed the First Order, a secret organization led by Snoke who is the Supreme Leader and who utilizes the evil side of the Force. Their main base of operations, Starkiller base is a frozen planet that has been made into weapon capable of destroying planets.
The First Order seeks to overthrow the Republic and regain power. Snoke has corrupted Ben, the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker's sister. Working against the The First Order is the Resistance which includes former members of the resistance from thirty years ago, among them General Leia. Luke Skywalker has disappeared and Snoke is seeking to locate Skywalker, the last Jedi, to destroy him. Ben who now goes by the name Kylo Ren, is being trained by Snoke in the dark side of the force and has been given the task of locating the last Jedi.
The movie opens with a member of the resistance being pursued by the First Order on Jakku. Resistance pilot, Poe Dameron is given a digital map of Luke Skywalker's location by an elderly villager, Lor San Tekka. Poe is quickly captured when Kylo Ren and his storm troopers raid Jakku, but Poe's droid, BB 8 escapes with the secret map safely stored within. After torturing Poe, Ren learns that the map is stored in a BB 8 droid. On board Ren's destroyer, a stormtrooper, FN 2187 finds himself unable to kill for the First Order. FN 2187 decides to free Poe and together they manage to escape in a TIE fighter. Their fighter is damaged and crashes back on Jakku. Believing he is the only survivor, FN-2187 who was nicknamed "Finn" by Poe, heads towards the nearest settlement.
Meanwhile that droid has been discovered by Rey, a young woman who is a scavenger in the deserts of Jakku. Separated from her family when she was very young, she waits for their return. Finn sees Rey with the BB-8 unit and approaches her. They fight when the BB-8 unit tells Rey that Finn is wearing a stolen jacket from his pilot. Finn tells her he is with the resistance and almost immediately they are attacked by Ren's stormtroopers. They escape the settlement when it is attacked by the First Order. Determined to leave Jakku, Rey and Finn along with BB-8 manage to escape in the Millennium Falcon. With the First Order after them, Finn manages to convince BB-8 to tell Rey where the resistance base is located. But getting to the resistance will prove far more difficult than they know. It is a journey that will lead Rey to uncover an amazing ability she never knew she had, one that could change the course of the war with the First Order.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens represents a return to the franchise in a spirit faithful to the first three movies, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This is represented by the iteration of several themes from the first movie and the return of several major characters from the first story. Of the actors returning, Harrison Ford gave an outstanding performance as Han Solo, getting better as the movie progressed. However, Carrie Fisher now the experienced General Organa, seemed at times to deliver her lines in a plodding manner. Fisher indicated that her character has had a difficult time and is under a great deal of pressure. She is still committed to defeating the re-emergence of the dark side of the force but she's tired and of course much older.
Although trailers for The Force Awakens seem to show the main protagonist as the character portrayed by John Boyega, in fact, Rey is the main character in this installment. Having a female lead in the Star Wars franchise is refreshing and long overdue. Ridley is a largely unknown actress with few credits but her performance in The Force Awakens is phenomenally fresh. With her emotionally expressive face and appealing physicality, she gives Star Wars a strong, intelligent, capable heroine. In captivity, Rey discovers that she is able to resist Kylo Ren's mind probe. Unlike Luke who required significant training by Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, Rey is able to quickly and easily learn how to work the Jedi mind trick on the storm trooper guarding her and is also able to use her previously unknown kinetic abilities to grasp the lightsaber when fighting Ren.
Kylo Ren, Han Solo's son is being tutored in the dark ways of the force by Snoke. However, Ren admits he feels the call to the light side of the force but wishes to resist. He is told he must kill his father in order to overcome this call. Ren is not the calm, controlled evil villian his grandfather was but instead seems unstable and troubled, falling into rages that leave the storm troopers terrified.Played by Adam Driver, Ren is shocked to discover untrained Rey's ability surpasses his own. This of course sets the stage for a battle of epic proportions.
The Force Awakens has some moments of exceptional cinematography for example Rey's slide down an enormous sand dune on Jakku, and the scenes in the forest on Starkiller Base. In keeping with the special effects techniques that were used in the first three films, Abrams utilized scale models to create battle scenes rather than computer generated images.
Movie-goers will be left with lots of unanswered questions that the next installment will address. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a fun movie, with plenty of thrilling action scenes, some good acting, and lots of satisfaction in seeing some of the characters from the original movies we've all come to love.