Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is the best installment since The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s no brave new world; it’s well-trod territory that will make you feel like you’re watching another special edition of A New Hope.
All the signature tropes from the 1977 original are here, such as:
A disaffected orphan loner on a backwater planet? Check.
A beeping droid carrying something vital for the Resistance? Check.
A black-clad, masked Big Bad? Check.
Daddy issues? Check, check and check!
But it’s 2015, so in this reboot for the post-millennial world, the loner is a woman, Rey (newcomer Daisy Ridley), who can really handle herself in a scrap. The movie takes pains to populate the Resistance and the First Order (the evil group that succeeded the Empire) with women of various ages and races. Grrrrl Power!
As the film opens, dashing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is on a mission for the rebels, and conflicted storm trooper Finn (John Boyega), is serving the black-clad, masked Force-user Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). After a huge battle, Poe and Finn find common cause and steal a TIE fighter, only to be shot down over Jakku, the desert planet where Rey lives.
Rey conveniently runs into Poe’s little soccer ball droid, BB-8, which is carrying something Poe hid inside it. Finn conveniently meets Rey, and they agree to deliver the droid to the Resistance. By using the Millennium Falcon, which lies derelict in a nearby junkyard. Of course. And Rey’s not such a bad pilot!
The Falcon gets the fugitives out a tough scrape, but then craps out. Which allows it to be swallowed by a convenient pirate ship. Crewed by not just any pirates but former owner Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), who agree to help the kids on their quest.
This movie is larded with exposition, and Han handles the heavy lifting of recapping the 30 years since the Empire was defeated in Return of the Jedi.
Sadly, the film suffers for it. The narrative pace lags painfully whenever explanations are needed — but then it accelerates to breakneck speed when the action kicks in.
And what action it is! The dogfights between spaceships are breathtaking, and the brilliant lightsaber battles are brutal. Ren’s infamous three-pointed red lightsaber is used a lot. Let’s just say he has anger and impulse-control issues to complement his Daddy issues.
The visual effects are eye-popping and nearly flawless. Best of all, everything from the puppets used for most of the new aliens to the CGI characters and explosions serve the story rather than getting in the way.
The ensemble acting is the finest of any of the films, with Harrison’s older, mellower Han leading the way. There’s still a boyish glint in his eye underneath that mop of wise gray hair. Daisy is a star in the making; she delivers some clunky dialogue with aplomb. BB-8 and Chewie get the best laugh lines.
However, the film is weighed down by too much familiarity and reeks of too many coincidences. Dedicated fans have seen all this before. It feels likes the original movie with a fresh coat of paint, a sex change and several role-reversals. There are a number of good, fun concepts that hopefully will become rounded characters in future installments.
The worst aspect of the prequels was how they shrank the Star Wars universe by linking so many characters by blood and too-tidy coincidence. This movie continues that incestuous trend.
The Force is with The Force Awakens, but it hits the snooze button a few too many times.
NOTE: This review first appeared at NationalEnquirer.com, where I am senior editor.