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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Reel Deal: The Force was usually with latest ‘Star Wars’ installment


    At the end of the first act of the seventh installment in the “Star Wars” series, scrap scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) have been brought together by fate -or the Force- on the arid desert planet of Jakku. They are in frantic flight from the troops of the First Order regime, and the unlikely duo have commandeered a bucket of bolts that just so happens to be the renowned Millennium Falcon.

    “I can do this, I can do this,” they repeat under their breath, and I got the feeling that not only was it Rey and Finn, but also Ridley and Boyega, who were willing themselves along as they tried to man the controls. The newcomers are at the helm of the most recognizable film franchise in the universe, and they’re trying to get it in the air.

    Like this initial ride in the iconic Falcon, everything isn’t always smooth, and it feels awfully familiar at times, which is a good and a bad thing, but “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is regardless a blockbuster of an incredibly high order.

    To begin the film, X-wing ace and Resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), on a mission from General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), retrieve a map that should provide the whereabouts of the long-missing, mythic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). However, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), an imposing, masked disciple of the Dark Side, interrupts the mission with his crackling blood-red lightsaber and a squad of Stormtroopers.

    Holding the map, Poe’s trusty droid, BB-8, escapes from the violent scene, and rolls across Jakku’s dunes until he runs into the solitary Rey, a chance encounter that will place her in the middle of the war between the First Order and the Resistance.

    Plans vital to overthrowing an evil monarchy are hidden away in a droid, which is discovered by an unsatisfied youth with untapped potential on a remote desert planet. There are times when “The Force Awakens” doesn’t follow the lead of the 1977 “Star Wars” so much as it follows in its exact footsteps.

    The Rebellion has become the Resistance, and the authoritarian First Order is essentially the Empire from films past, just with sleeker Stormtroopers. They’re even building a large, spherical superweapon; it’s just called Starkiller instead of Death Star.

    As seen in “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” director J.J. Abrams’ reboots of classic sci-fi series resemble re-imaginings that border on fan-fictional remakes. However, Abrams brings in plenty of new, and it’s good.

    The fresh faces are all welcome additions. Rey is a fiercely independent young woman. I say this, yet her character may be the most unevenly written, with her arc ham-handedly executed and less satisfying than Luke’s in the original film.

    However, screenwriters Abrams, Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan, who also wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” still give her plenty of opportunities, which are met with approving laughter from the audience, to assert herself among the boys.

    According to Ridley, Abrams described her acting as “wooden” on her first day. If that was indeed the case, then all credit to both for coming a long way, because Ridley is now the face of the franchise, and she can carry it, I have no doubt.

    If there were a young actor who couldn’t rely on their face for most of a film, Adam Driver would be my first choice. The supporting star from “Girls” employs his trademark physicality that he has honed so well on the HBO series; he can be equal parts ominously imposing, and, more in tune with his character on “Girls,” spastically furious. Kylo Ren is the best, and most interesting villain since Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”

    BB-8 is a delightful orange-and-white soccer ball of a droid that may have even more spunk than R2-D2.

    However, one of the most familiar faces was the best to see. Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo with Chewbacca by his side, and Ford suavely bumbles his way into and out of trouble. Like all good blockbusters, the film has its hearty dose of humor, with Ford providing the best bits as only he can. Solo shows Rey a thing or two about the Millennium Falcon, but, in a fantastic role reversal, she shows the old space pirate a thing or two about his own ship.

    In this universe, the new and the old co-exist, with the vestiges of the past being monolithic remnants that tower over everything else. Rey spelunks for junk to resell in the cavernous belly of a Star Destroyer ship, its crashed hulk looming over the shifting sands. Kylo Ren kneels before Darth Vader’s caved-in helmet, praying to it to give him a power that he fears he will never attain nor live up to.

    Episode VII does chain itself to the past. Fans, nor the franchise, wanted to go in a direction that resembled Episodes I-III, but does striving for the former glory of Episodes IV-VI have to entail aping them to a fault?

    The “been there, done that” feeling sat with me a few times throughout the movie, removing me from the the experience partially.

    But this wasn’t enough to derail the entire experience. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has exhilarating action with lightsaber duels and spaceship dog fights, boundless humor and drama, along with characters and stories here worth getting invested in. It’s a fun time at the theater.

    Rian Johnson, director of the inventive sci-fi film “Looper,” is at the helm for Episode VIII. Here’s hoping the series ventures into more uncharted territory.


    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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