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STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS (review)

Review by Stefan Blitz
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Directed by J. J. Abrams
Starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher,
Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega,Oscar Isaac,
Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson,
Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Max von Sydow

Indulge me for a moment or two. During the summer of 1977 I watched Star Wars for the first time in the theater sitting next to my father.

In 1980, my father acquired a bootleg video cassette of Star Wars (two years before the actual VHS commercial release).

On May 21st, 1980 and again on May 25th, 1983 I saw The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi on their opening days.

For those too young to experience it, it’s hard to explain the cultural significance that Star Wars represented on popular culture during the release of the original trilogy.

In the fall of 1989 I watched the original trilogy at the Student Activities Center Theater at Temple University over three nights.

Then at midnight on May 29th, 1999, I excitedly waited for the Lucasfilm logo to launch the beginning of the prequel trilogy’s first installment, Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

By 12:15 am I was disappointed and by the time the film ended I tried to rationalize to myself that it wasn’t that bad; especially knowing that I had tickets to see it again the following afternoon.  That experience was the closest thing to cinematic torture.  I was bored, frustrated and by the end of my second viewing felt like it might be time to walk away.

Episodes II and III were slightly better.  But “better” than bad, doesn’t necessarily mean “good”.

When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced Episode VII, I was intrigued, mostly by the participation of the original cast.  The first trailer with the appearance of the Millennium Falcon and the second, with Han Solo and Chewbacca aboard the ship, and Han grumbling, “Chewie, we’re home” actually made me feel surprisingly emotional.  Like seeing old friends that you never expected to see again, and learning that if nothing else, they’re OK.

Despite cautious optimism, the more I saw of the new film, the more excited I became to see it.  And this morning, I had the privilege.

It might not have the Fox fanfare, but the second John Williams’ iconic theme exploded and the scroll began, I felt six years old again.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.

I’ve decided that the first sentence of the opening crawl is as far as I want to go in terms of spoilers.  If you grew up with the franchise, you won’t be disappointed.  The film doesn’t take a lot of risks, and in many ways emulates Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey that was the template of the first film, but at the same time, captures the edge and tone that director Irvin Kershner brought to Empire.

And while the film is entirely satisfactory, I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t answer all of the questions it asked.  The cast is truly amazing and the returning players give their all.  Ford’s return performance as Han Solo might bring a deserved Oscar nomination.

Effects are top notch, with the majority of them executed practically.  John Williams once again is the emotional core and his score is beautiful.

Unlike the prequels, The Force Awakens is an extension of the original trilogy that fans fell in love with, as well as being a well crafted and engaging soft reboot for new viewers.

May The Force Be With Us.

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