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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Film Review by Van Roberts

Apparently, “Star Trek” and “Star Trek into Darkness” director J.J. Abrams adopted the strategy ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ for Disney’s revival of George Lucas’ “Star War” franchise.  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (*** OUT OF ****) qualifies as an uninspired, but entertaining science fiction/fantasy saga with spectacular CGI special effects. Unfortunately, it suffers from half-baked villains and a shamelessly derivative script. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt must have cherry-picked their favorite scenes and characters from earlier “Star Wars” epics, retooled them for this reboot, and then placed them in similar order to conform with the formula. Originally, Lucas hired Kasdan to rewrite “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” while Arndt wrote “The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire” and “Toy Story 3.”  Despite this gifted talent, Abrams and company don’t awaken as much as recycle the Force. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” duplicates the formulaic narrative of the original trilogy with nary a flaw, but Abrams cannot conjure up Lucas’ buoyant spirit of feel-good spontaneity.  Nevertheless, unless you’re a nitpicky franchise aficionado, you’ll have four reasons to welcome this melodramatic franchise reboot from the House of Mouse.  First, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a full-fledged sequel instead of a prequel.  (Mind you, the prequels weren’t entirely ponderous, and each chronicled Anakin Skywalker’s walk on the dark side.) Second, Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker return after a 32-year hiatus.  Mind you, C3P0 and R2-D2 are back, but they linger on the periphery.  A new droid designated BB-8 replaces R2-D2 as comic relief.  Third, Harrison Ford gives one of his strongest performances as Han Solo.  You’ll enjoy his shenanigans with the ‘rathars,’ tentacled, carnivorous, alien predators that he is transporting aboard his spaceship.  Abrams confines Carrie Fisher to the sidelines, while Mark Hamill appears at the last minute. London-born Daisy Ridley, whose character draws on both Luke and Leia, is the fourth reason you’ll want to see the seventh movie again.  You won’t take your eyes off this scrappy waif until Solo emerges to challenge her dominance.  Meantime, “Attack the Block” actor John Boyega plays the most interesting new character, but his character appears to be given the short-shrift. Combat fighter pilot Oscar Isaac of “The Bourne Legacy” emulates Han Solo with his daredevil aerial skills. At the least, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” amounts to a swiftly plotted, larger-than-life, crowd-pleasing space opera with dialogue that propels the plot.

The third sequel unfolds on the desolate, sun-scorched planet of Jakku. A single girl named Rey (Daisy Ridley of “Scrawl”) survives by scavenging parts from a crashed Empire starship. She lives alone in the desert. Eventually, Rey rescues an adorable little droid BB-8 from another native scavenger.  BB-8 is an insufferable scene-stealer.  Meantime, the infamous First Order regime has risen from the ashes of the defeated Empire.  These imperialist minded maniacs are no different from their draconian predecessors.  They’ve been scouring the galaxy like bloodhounds for the last surviving Jedi knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), and they’ve finally located a lead on Jakku.  Simultaneously, the rebel Resistance, led by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), has dispatched a pilot, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac of “Ex Machina”), to retrieve information from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow of “The Exorcist”) about Luke’s whereabouts.  No sooner has San Tekka confided in Poe than the First Order, led by wannabe Dark Vader lookalike Kylo Ren (Adam Driver of “Lincoln”), arrives with squads of Stormtroopers.  One of those armor-clad soldiers, FN-2187 (John Boyega), suffers a crisis of conscience and deserts when he is ordered to massacre innocents.  FN-2187’s superior, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie of “The Zero Theorem”), keeps him under close scrutiny because he refused to fire his blaster. Although the First Order has rounded up Poe, FN-2187 sticks around long enough to rescue Poe. He pretends to take Poe at gunpoint into the hanger. They steal a TIE fighter, but crash on Jakku. Eventually, a lost and wandering FN-2187 befriends Rey.  When marauding Stormtroopers invade Jakku, our heroes stumble accidentally onto Han Solo’s long, lost Millennium Falcon and steal it to escape.  Han intercepts them while engaged on a mission to deliver exotic but carnivorous alien wildlife.

Despite a fresh crop of new characters, including Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” imitates virtually everything in the six previous entries as well as the title.  Han Solo’s cliffhanger confrontation and the finale with the new Death Star situated in a planet recalls the original.  Helmer J.J. Abrams directs with slick but soulless efficiency.  Rarely does he let the breathless momentum abate.  When the momentum does slacken, however, you realize that this is just a glossy facsimile.  Of course, unless you have seen the first six films, you may not recognize the rampant similarities since you’ll be too swept up in the whirlwind of heroics.  Happily, Rey emerges as a tenacious but sympathetic female version of Luke.  The charismatic Ridley radiates personality galore, and casting her as the no-nonsense heroine was a stroke of genius. She shares two scenes with Luke’s old lightsaber, and she wields it with surprising familiarity the second time.  It should be obvious that Rey is Luke’s daughter, but we’ll have to wait for Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: Chapter VIII” to confirm this matter.  Rey makes a greater impression on-screen than either Finn or Poe.  Finn and Poe received some of Han Solo’s attributes.  Finn cannot tolerate the amoral regimen of a Stormtrooper, and Poe rivals Han’s superior skills as a pilot without his mercenary impulses.  Kylo Ren resembles Anakin Skywalker, but Ren emerges as far more murderous.  Although Kylo Ren is every bit as dastardly as Darth Vader behind the helmet, he doesn’t dredge up adequate dread to match him as an adversary. Meanwhile, Ren’s superior Snoke pales by comparison with the evil Emperor.  Altogether, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” doesn’t depart from the classic formula and provides a few surprises, like Daisy Ridley.

“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts

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