At the movies: Reawakening the force of the ‘Star Wars’ fan-chise
Special to the Tribune
STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
* * * (B)
Directed By J.J. Abrams
Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis
Disney//Rated PG-13//Science Fiction//135 minutes
“The Force Awakens” recaptures the franchise’s Saturday matinee influence — a joy to the series’ fan-chisers. Well-paced storytelling and snappy one liners mark the return of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, a cute new Droid BB-8, and Oscar Isaac as wisecracking pilot Poe Dameron.
Set 30 years after Lucas’s first triumvirate, the Empire has morphed into the First Order, still fervently embracing the “dark side.” On a distant planet “far far away,” Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia is now General Leia, leader of the resistance fighters. She sends her numero uno pilot Poe Dameron, to find her long-lost brother, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Although determined to fight on, Leia is melancholy due to personal setbacks, but she becomes hopeful after a brief reunion with Solo.
Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on desert planet Jakku, stumbles upon and fosters droid BB-8, whose locomotion results from rotating his ball-shaped body in any direction. BB-8’s beeps recall those of R2D2. It’s a language Rey understands. She reluctantly teams up with Finn (John Boyega), a First Order Storm Trooper who escaped his tyrannical captors following a crisis of conscience. Finn stumbles upon Rey when he spots the droid sought by First Order. The threesome evade the dark side by commandeering a moth balled starship which is eventually boarded by the ship’s owners, Solo and his copilot Chewbacca.
Having brought both familiar and new players together, the story provides new villains for them — First Order’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), whose piercing blue eyes hide behind a Darth Vader mask, his voice altered and punctuated by the mask’s frightening breathing machine hiss. Ren takes orders from Supreme Leader Snoke (projected as a giant hologram and portrayed by motion-capture genius Andy Serkis).
The film pays homage to the ever popular light sabers of yesteryear, but oddly uses the original lights serving as their blades. In contrast to the more sophisticated computer-generated visuals fleshing out the rest of this tale, this dated one is unsettling.
Rey, positioned to carry the heroine’s mantle, demonstrates an innate ability with the force. It’s gratifying to find a female placed front and center as a jedi-like fighter. Rey is saddled with mysterious emotional baggage, but 23-year-old Ridley shows flashes of her affinity for humor.
It takes longer to warm up to John Boyega’s Finn, whose comic timing proves to be a work in progress. Meanwhile, his character makes a series of difficult emotional transitions that include ripening feelings for Rey.
Unlike the easy banter between Ford, Fisher and Hamill’s characters, Boyega and Ridley’s chemistry seems more strained. Director and co-writer Abrams, an admitted “Star Wars” superfan, is sometimes overtaken with a reverence that overwhelms this chapter’s natural groove. That said, he admirably creates adventures that leave audiences wanting more. Having reawakened the force, we are hopeful subsequent chapters will harness it.