By Laurie Coker

Rating: A+

From 1977 until now, I have watched the Star Wars saga unfold in theatres, either on an official opening day or at a preopening event. I am a fan, except that is for the weird Jar Jar character and a few other annoyances in Episodes I-III, of everything Star Wars. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, super director J.J. Abrams goes back to the flash and feel of the original films and does so with a remarkable and brilliant vengeance. After Disney bought up the rights to three more films, diehard fans, like my son – his daughter’s name is Leia – cringed, but still, he (and I for that matter) kept high hopes, especially with Abrams at the wheel. With old stars and fresh faces, Star Wars: The Force Awakens exceeds expectations.

Episode VII, stands alone (even as a cliff-hanger), and does so with amazing flourish and stunning visuals. Still, as I watched, I could not help but reflect back and marvel at George Lucas’ exceptional “special effects” of the late 70s and early 80s, perhaps more impressive given that Lucas created much of it from astonishing sets, miniatures, masterful camera work and live extras. Abrams has much more ability via technology, literally at his fingertips, to create the battles and worlds as envisioned by Lucas, and Abrams seamlessly utilizes every bit of it. The Force Awakes is an impressive spectacle of stunning visual imagery – special effects eye-candy. Even if the story is far from fresh, like some of its stars, the homage that co-writers Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt pay to the early films make it a refreshing bit of a reimagining of perhaps one of the most iconic franchises of all times – iconic to the cinema, like the Beatles are to music.

Seeing Harrison Ford, as Hans Solo with his sidekick Chewbacca, excites, particularly since, even aged, Solo is a dynamic and dashing dude. Carrie Fisher (now General Leia Organa Skywaker) , who has had her run of setbacks and successes, looks a bit worse for the wear, and I could swear she clung to set pieces for balance. Still, seeing Hans and Leia reunite on screen ignites the heart, and we learn they married and had a son together adding just one of the many, albeit predictable, twists that Abrams and crew have to offer. Seeing C3-PO and R2D2 also brings back fond memories and the new droid on the block, BB-8, is adorable.

Two more wonderful additions to the franchise are Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn). Ridley and Boyega have the on screen witty style, chemistry and tenaciousness of the Fisher and Ford in their Star Wars prime. Rey and Finn are as strong if not stronger than Leia and Hans, and Rey falls nicely into the role of reluctant apprentice Jedi – a female version, as it were, of Luke Skywalker. With Finn we get a Storm Trooper with a conscious and can put a more human, or perhaps in case of all the other troopers, inhumane face to the otherwise white-armor covered robotic soldiers. Oscar Isaac, as a rebel pilot Poe Dameron, offers up another likable witty character and Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson play Kylo Ren and General Hux respectively, with admirable evilness – Gleeson’s Hux perhaps wickeder than Driver’s Ren.

The pacing is warp speed, across land and space, chases and battles, and reunions and meetings, making the two and a quarter run time fly by, leaving viewers hungry for more and more will come. This compelling young cast and familiar faces – furry, metallic and human – will capture the imagination of new generation and satisfy original fans. With the rebel alliance gearing up for the next evil villain, the eighth film promises an equally brilliant and rabblerousing ride. The PG-13 rated Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while perhaps not deserving of a week or more camped outside a movie theatre in December, does warrant a solid A+ and most assuredly a rousing Wookie wail.

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