Approximately a decade ago, Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was released in theaters. When it came out, the impression felt by fans and the powers that be at Lucasfilm was that this would be the last time anyone would see a new Star Wars film in theaters. While there was a Clone Wars animated film released a couple of years later, chances were high we would not be getting any sort of sequel trilogy.
However, a few years ago, Disney acquired Lucasfilm and soon word came that we would indeed get a return to that galaxy far far away. George Lucas walked away from the franchise he had built and the reigns were handed over to JJ Abrams. Abrams had just come off a money making, yet controversial reboot of the Star Trek franchise. And now he was going to try his hand at Star Wars. He told everyone he was a fan. He said he would stay true to the spirit of the original trilogy. Everything he said seem to indicate he would rid the fans of the Prequels, which many hold as a low point in the history of this beloved franchise. But did he deliver?
The answer to that is a resounding yes. Abrams pulled it off and Star Wars feels like it has recaptured that same sense of fun and wonder it had when those of us old enough to have seen the first trilogy in theaters first saw that Star Destroyer rumble across the screen, or saw Luke and Vader duel through the underbelly of Cloud City, or watched the Millennium Falcon tear through the insides of the second Death Star.
This new film gives us new characters to cheer and boo for, and has us reuniting with old friends. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher slip back into their iconic roles with ease, although the script gives these legendary heroes a world weariness as they grapple with events that drive the film. And the mystery of why Mark Hamill’s famous role as Luke Skywalker is absent from promotional material is solved. There is a good reason. But that doesn’t stop his appearance in the film from being breathtaking.
The old guard is joined a group of worthy newcomers. As played by Daisy Riddley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, and Adam Driver, the characters of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren are excellent additions to the rich Star Wars mythos. Ridlley’s Rey is a worthy successor to Carrie Fisher’s Leia. And in one scene, she even goes above and beyond Leia as she is put into a situation similar to one Leia found herself in during the events of the first Star Wars movie. Boyega’s reformed Stormtrooper Finn adds an interesting layer to a part of Star Wars mythos that had never been deeply explored in the films. And Adama Driver as Kylo Ren proves that the character in more than just a clone of Darth Vader, but a character of deeper meaning and significance to the Star Wars universe. Joining the leads are Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Khanata and Domhnall Gleeson as the frighteningly evil General Hux, with support by Andy Serkix as the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke, this film’s answer to the Emperor (with what feels to me like a bit of the Marvel movies’ Thanos thrown in.)
An unexpected star of the film is BB-8. This droid is more than just this generation’s R2-D2. The spherical droid is living proof that you don’t need CGI to create a fully realized non-human character. His (?) cuteness is not forced nor is the droid around strictly for laughs that only would appeal (supposedly) to the younger set. (unlike a certain floopy-eared alien with a weird accent that shall remain nameless.) Not all the new cast fair well in their roles, Gwendoline Christie’s Alpha Stormtrooper, Captain Phasma, is sadly not given enough to do. However, Abrams has promised she will get her dues in future movies
This film itself is one for the fans, with loving homages to the previous films. And even a few surprise cameos by not only a few veterans of other JJ Abrams projects, but also some other surprises you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears open for. The story does have many bits that call back to the first Star Wars film. (including a rescue, a giant killer space station, and a hero that gets to leave their hardscrabble existence and enter a new world.) This not be quite what causal fans are looking for, or what some hungry for a totally new experience want, but for those, like me looking to feel like a kid again and experience a sense of wonder, this film is exactly what we’ve been looking for.
The second teaser trailer for the film was released in May and ended with our first look at Han and Chewie with the dashing smuggler exclaiming “We’re home.” That is how I and many of the crowd I watched it with felt. We were home.