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Movie Night – 'The Force Awakens' blends old with new (Dec. 30, 2015 issue)

It’s been a long time coming. At long last we have a Star Wars movie worthy of the original trilogy. Not only is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” worthy of the original movies, it’s one of the best of the series.
Thirty years have passed since the second Death Star was destroyed at the conclusion of “Return of the Jedi.” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has vanished. A new group known as the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Galatic Empire. Lead by a mysterious being known as Supreme Commander Snoke with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as its head henchman, the First Order aims to destroy the Republic, crush the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and establish dominion over the entire universe.
The first step toward this goal is locating and eliminating Luke Skywalker. Skywalker is the only remaining Jedi knight. If the First Order is able to kill Skywalker only the dark side of the Force will remain. There will be no resistance from the light to counteract the dark side and bring balance to the Force. The dark side will be all-consuming.
Snoke has tasked Kylo Ren with the job of finding and killing Skywalker. Ren, however, is much more than hired muscle. He is the equivalent of a Jedi knight for the dark side and is a committed true believer to the cause of the First Order. Ren wears a mask that covers his entire face and alters his voice (sound familiar?), which serves to make him more menacing.
A droid named BB-8 is entrusted with a fragment of a map that leads to the location of Skywalker. BB-8 is stranded on the desert planet of Jakku and found by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a loner who makes her living scavenging from the wrecks of Imperial Star Destroyers that crashed on Jakku. Rey teams up with Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper who is on the run from the First Order after he failed to kill innocent people. Together their mission is to get the map to the Resistance and locate Skywalker. There are many more characters and plot twists to the story, but there are no spoilers here.
“The Force Awakens” is full of action. Many parts of the movie consist of action scene after action scene with very little in between. But that doesn’t take away from the plot or character development in the movie. The basic story is far from original, the First Order has a massive weapon capable of destroying entire planets and the Resistance must take down the shields to the weapon so their pilots can destroy the one vulnerability of the weapon moments before it destroys the Resistance for good.
The richness of the plot is all about the hunt for Luke Skywalker, the new characters that are introduced, and how the new characters integrate with the original trilogy and the enduring characters brought to life by George Lucas. Many of the main characters from “Return of the Jedi” are back. Leia, Luke, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) play roles of varying importance in the movie.
The new characters, particularly Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are like a breath of fresh air. While Daisy Ridley and John Boyega may be relative newcomers to the acting scene, they are excellent in their roles and something tells me that they will be around for the sequels. On the dark side of the coin, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is phenomenal. Ren is ruthless and utterly evil, yet he is still conflicted.
The integration between the older beloved characters and the new entrants into the Star Wars universe is executed with perfection. The movie shows the proper respect due to the characters you already know and love while at the same time introducing the new crop of men and women who will lead the Resistance. “The Force Awakens” is a perfect blend of the old and the new.
“The Force Awakens” is action-packed, funny, smart, and immensely entertaining for the whole family. The writing, directing, and acting is all top-notch. You will fall in love again with characters who seem like old friends while at the same time enjoy seeing the torch passed to the new generation. Most of all, you will leave the theater with a smile on your face and find yourself looking forward to the next installment in 2017.
Grade: A+
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.