Don’t ever let anyone say you can’t go home again. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams, and writer Lawrence Kasdan do exactly that; by the time the opening text crawl disappears into space, 35 years have melted away, and you’re right back to where you were when you first discovered Luke Skywalker and his friends. It’s like digging out your most comfy old pajamas from when you were a kid and discovering that they somehow magically still fit perfectly. But this isn’t one of those reunion shows where the old cast is trotted out for a “where are they now” segment as a substitute for an actual story.
This is the sort of movie we were all hoping to see when we were given The Phantom Menace and its ilk; there’s no prattling on about trade alliances, no annoying “comedy” characters, and most blessedly of all, no sequences where the story stops for ten minutes so they can try to sell us toys. This is especially noteworthy in the case of the endlessly appealing BB-8, the plucky spheroid droid who seems like R2-D2’s cute little brother (sister? Do droids have genders?). BB-8 remains charming throughout, and one of the reasons we love this droid is that they don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince us to love it. Abrams keeps the action moving without ever letting it overpower the characters or their relationships, and in fact, those relationships are the core of the film, as they were in Episodes 4 and 5.
It’s also very much a “changing of the guard” movie, with new characters being introduced and taking on important story arcs. The very first words in the opening scroll inform us that Luke Skywalker has vanished, and then the story follows other characters as they search for him, some for good reasons and others for evil. Other characters get caught up in the quest, three, in particular, taking on importance to the story: Finn (John Boyega), a reluctant stormtrooper; Poe (Oscar Isaac), the best X-Wing pilot in the Rebellion; and Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert world of Jakku. All three become targets of the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a leader of the fascistic “First Order” which seeks to rebuild the Empire. These four carry the bulk of the film, with Han Solo and Chewbacca, the most prominent members of the original cast. Harrison Ford slips back into his Han Solo role with the ease of putting on his favorite boots.
In keeping with the mythic fairytale/fantasy nature of the Star Wars saga, there are some universal lessons to be imparted. There is ample opportunity for discussions with your children afterwards about some of the good and bad behavior on display here, which I think young viewers will find compelling and possibly transformative. Three lessons children can learn from The Force Awakens:
You always have a choice. When we are introduced to the character of Finn, he is horrified (and more than a little bit terrified) by the brutality of war and the callous disregard for life in the stormtroopers’ world, and he chooses to do something about it. As the events of the story play out, Finn finds himself having to choose between running away or staying to help, and his choices affect several other characters. Despite being conditioned and trained from birth to be an obedient soldier, Finn chooses to be a hero.
Stick up for your friends. Finn’s choices are largely based on his sense of loyalty and obligation to support and defend his newfound friends; when the more familiar characters show up, they too are trying to protect their friends; themes of loyalty and duty are present throughout the film.
You’re stronger than you think. One of the first people Finn encounters after going AWOL is Rey, a scavenger eking out a minimal living by pulling salvage out of the many destroyed Imperial vehicles and weapons scattered across the Jakku desert, which was apparently the scene of a major battle in which the Empire endured heavy losses. As Rey is reluctantly compelled into the battle against the First Order, she discovers strength and resourcefulness she never knew she had.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes as close to living up to the hype as it’s possible for a film to manage. If you grew up on Star Wars, you’ll find yourself transported back to the feeling you had the first time you saw the original trilogy. I was almost 19 when the first one was originally released, and I felt almost envious of people who got to see it as a child. But it’s not just a nostalgia wallow; it absolutely stands on its own as a film, and you don’t need to have seen a single minute of any of the other films to completely enjoy it. It may very well end up being your favorite of the series, or at least in the top three.
Star Wars: A Force Awakens in theaters December 18, 2015
About the Author
Jim MacQuarrie is a comics and animation geek, a professional cartoonist and graphic designer, professional balloon animal twister, a certified archery instructor (and yes, his arrows are green), former homeless person and occasional gadfly. He has three children who are all grown up, and an incredibly patient wife who is waiting for him to do likewise. Together they co-write the lifestyle blog Blue Collar, Black Tie.
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