By Michael Tessler
To many, “Star Wars” is so much more than a film franchise. It’s an expansive sandbox filled to the brim with plastic action figures, toy lightsabers, X-Wing Lego sets, friendships and the imaginations of children everywhere. For me, it’s a return to a simpler time, one without bills, college, work or relationships. A time when my biggest concern was getting off the bus and running across the street to reenact epic lightsaber duels with my childhood best friend, Matthew.
This past Thursday, Matthew (now a soldier in the United States Army) and I reunited for one of the premiere showings of “The Force Awakens.” It had been over a decade since we attended a “Star Wars” film together. Mark Hamill could describe the experience best — “Everything has changed and nothing has changed.” We’ve both grown up. And yet you can’t help but feel six years old when the opening crawl appears and the John Williams score begins playing.
“We’re 32 years worth of excited,” one longtime fan said. “I’ve been to every ‘Star Wars’ premiere since the original film in 1977.” Standing next to him was his grandson. This was his first “Star Wars” premiere. For him, taking his grandson to the movie was the only thing more exciting than seeing the movie itself.
Some three decades ago a young boy by the name of Jeffrey Jacobs got to see “Star Wars” for the first time. Like many children, he was instantly hooked. Today he is the director and co-writer of “The Force Awakens” and the spiritual successor to George Lucas. He was given the impossible task: Make a sequel to the most popular film franchise ever made.
J.J. Abrams was our new hope. And he did not disappoint.
THE REVIEW — (SOME MINOR SPOILERS BELOW)
Part of what made the original “Star Wars” so special was the tangibility of it all. Tatooine felt real because it was real. Filmed in the desert sandscapes of Tunisia, you just knew as a child that somewhere that place existed. This sensation was replicated in “The Force Awakens” during our journey to Jakku, a scavenger’s paradise littered with wreckage from the Galactic Civil War. Seeing the massive hull of a Star Destroyer consumed by the sandstorms of Abu Dhabi was both powerful and an excellent metaphor. While the Empire may be long gone, its shadow remains a looming threat over the galaxy at large.
Our story picks up 30 years after “Return of the Jedi.” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing, and an evil faction known as The First Order has filled the vacuum the Empire left behind. In opposition is the Republic, a pacifist government, maintaining an uneasy peace with its inevitable enemy. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads a small band of resistance fighters hoping to stop The First Order before it strikes.
Harrison Ford, the clear star of the film, reprises his role as the infamous smuggler Han Solo. He’s old, he’s grumpy and absolutely perfect in his portrayal of the scruffy-looking nerf herder. His banter with renegade storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) is one of the film’s highlights. Co-writer and “Star Wars” veteran Lawrence Kasdan masterfully creates fluid dialogue reminiscent of “Empire Strikes Back” and”Return of the Jedi,” finding the perfect blend between story, wit and comedy.
We also meet newcomer Rey (Daisy Ridley), an orphaned scavenger living in a hollowed out AT-AT on Jakku. She’s full of surprises and is the perfect successor to everyone’s favorite Alderaanian princess. Alongside her is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an ace pilot who leads a secret mission at the request of General Leia Organa. He’s accompanied by his trusty astromech BB-8, who’s a true marvel of engineering and a worthy addition to the droid duo of C-3PO and R2-D2.
Perhaps my favorite new cast member is Adam Driver (from “Girls”) who plays the unstable yet wildly entertaining Sith-in-training Kylo Ren. Compared to the refined Darth Vader, he makes for an absolutely terrifying villain. We’re also introduced to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), an entirely CGI supervillain whose background largely remains a mystery.
‘The Force Awakens” is an emotional cinematic experience unmatched in its ability to make you feel. Though at times the story feels rushed, it is a story worth telling. Plot lines may have been overused and recycled to the point of cliche (SPOILER ALERT: i.e., Death Star = Starkiller Base, intergalactic daddy issues, etc.), yet J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan compensate with a masterful screenplay and perfect casting.
From start to finish you’re on the edge of your seat. There’s no shortage of action and the cinematography is unrivaled. You’re so captivated by the story, effects, music and characters that you’ll overlook the film’s various (but forgivable) plot holes.
All in all this is the film fans have been waiting for. It is a worthy sequel to the most beloved franchise of all time and a perfect reminder of what “Star Wars” is all about. It’s about people, it’s about the underdogs, struggling to find a place in a galaxy of massive proportions. Because hey, if a simple farm boy from Tatooine can take on the whole Empire … then why can’t I?
Michael Tessler is a resident of Mount Sinai, a wannabe X-Wing pilot and an account executive at Times Beacon RecordNews Media.