Tag Archives: The First Order

A Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – The Burden of Expectations

TITLE: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 152 min
RELEASED: December 15, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had to sleep on this one. That’s partially why I waited a week before releasing my review. When I came out of The Last Jedi, I wasn’t sure what to think. That wasn’t the reaction I expected. When I walked out of The Force Awakens, I knew I loved it. When I left Rogue One, I knew I hated it. This one was in a weird “What did I just see?” zone.

In hindsight, the mountains of advance praise heaped on The Last Jedi harmed it in a way few seemed to anticipate. Not just praise from critics mind you, but from Disney themselves when they put director Rian Johnson in charge of the next Star Wars trilogy. That’s a hell of an endorsement. The biggest entertainment company in the world put this guy in the driver’s seat for the biggest movie franchise in the world. All signs pointed to: “Rian Johnson is great! The Last Jedi is going to be amazing and perfect in every way!” What else were we supposed to think?

Sometimes hype hinders. Just ask George Lucas. He learned that the hard way with a little movie called The Phantom Menace.

That’s actually an apt comparison, as The Last Jedi could be the most divisive Star Wars story since The Phantom Menace. Obviously, a portion of the adult Star Wars fanbase has been perpetually butthurt since before butthurt was even a thing. But even the even-tempered and reasonable among us have taken issue with the film.

So allow me to serve as a voice of the middle-ground. A life-long Star Wars buff who isn’t among those that creates petitions to make certain movies non-canon. For the sake of organization and simplicity, let’s make this a simple pro/con list…

Pro: Rey’s parentage
The Force Awakens left us with a lot of questions about Rey’s parents. There were plenty of candidates. Was she Han and Leia’s daughter? Was she Luke’s daughter? Was she somehow Ob-Wan’s daughter? Could she be Snoke’s daughter?

As it turns out, she’s nobody’s daughter. Nobody we know, anyway. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren (Or are we officially calling him Ben Solo now?) reveals that Rey is the child of junkers from Jakku who sold her off for “drinking money.” They’re almost trolling us with that one. The franchise with the most famous family revelation in cinematic history sets up another one, then gives us an anti-reveal.

But here’s the thing: It’s the right call. Not making Rey a descendent of Luke, Leia, or someone from the original trilogy gives her a refreshing independance. It makes her a self-made hero. I can also appreciate them not repeating the “I am your father” beat again.

Con: Snoke’s identity
Snoke was every bit the subject of speculation that Rey was, if not more. Who was this mysterious Force-wielder that taught Ben Solo the ways of the Dark Side? Why was his face so messed up? Was he even human? Was he the infamous Darth Plagueis?

The truth of Rey’s parentage may not have satisfied everybody, but at least we got an answer. With Snoke we got nothing. Nothing. Ben turns on him halfway through the movie, ultimately taking his spot at the top of the First Order food chain. While killing him off isn’t necessarily an issue, not addressing who he is, even if it’s just another non-reveal, is the movie’s biggest letdown.

You can make the argument we knew next to nothing about Palpatine in Empire and Jedi. Hell, they never even said his name. He was just the Emperor. But they then proceeded to make three movies chronicling his rise to power. Snoke’s identity is also wrapped up in the backstory of the First Order, of which we know so little.

I suppose there’s a chance we’ll learn a little more about who this guy was in Episode IX. But this was their big opportunity to explore him, and they missed it. That’s astounding. It’s not as if they didn’t know we were curious…

Pro: Mark Hamill as grumpy Luke.
There’s naturally a warm and fuzzy nostalgic quality to seeing Mark Hamill come back to Luke Skywalker. But he’s also perennially underrated as an actor. So to see him in a major motion picture again is very satisfying. He more than holds up his end of the bargain.

People have had mixed emotions about what they’ve done with Luke in these new movies. The execution hasn’t been perfect. But the idea itself isn’t bad. The events of Return of the Jedi happened more than 30 years ago. A hell of a lot can happen in three decades. People change. Luke has changed. I like that none of us were expecting grumpy old Luke Skywalker. It opened some interesting doors, and allowed Mark Hamill to turn in a different, more nuanced performance than he otherwise might have.

Con: Overstuffing the plot
The Last Jedi is so bloated that it may be the first Star Wars movie that overstays its welcome. It struggles to give both Finn and Poe Dameron something to do. As Rey, Finn, and Poe are supposed to have essentially the same level of importance, they all have their own plot threads. This leaves the story overinflated and less focused. As much as I like Oscar Isaac as Poe, he’s the one who needed to be scaled back.

While Finn and his new ally Rose are off on their big mission to a space casino, Leia is incapacitated. So Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in charge of the Resistance. When Poe doesn’t like her more reserved and passive strategy, he stages a mutiny. We later learn Holdo is trying to be discreet while moving the Resistance to an old Rebel base on the planet Crait. She ends up sacrificing herself to buy them time.

While I enjoyed Laura Dern’s presence in the film, this whole subplot was unnecessary. I understand the lesson Poe is supposed to learn about seeing the bigger picture. But the movie already has so much going on, and they could have saved time by simply having Poe and Holdo work together in Leia’s absence. Then, inspired by her sacrifice, he can take charge and lead the Resistance forward into a new era.

Pro: New Planets
The planets in both The Force Awakens and Rogue One left something to be desired. None were particularly memorable other than Jakku, which is essentially the same world as Tatooine.

Crait isn’t a particularly interesting setting, at least not that we know of. But it does make for a unique visual during our climactic battle. You’ve got a thick layer of salt on the surface, with the red mineral content underneath. It’s a new kind of environment. That’s not an easy thing to give us after eight Star Wars movies.

The casino city of Canto Bight, which Finn and Rose travel to, is memorable as well. It doesn’t blow you away in terms of creatures or visual spectacle. But the novelty of basically seeing Star Wars characters go to Vegas is amusing.

Con: The Era
Here’s a little something Disney doesn’t want you to realize: We’re never going to get another universally beloved Star Wars movie ever again. Hell, we haven’t had once since The Empire Strikes Back, and even that’s debatable in some circles. The phrase “everyone’s a critic” has never been more true than it is in 2017. The advent of the internet, blogs, YouTube shows and the like have allowed for pop culture to be analyzed and re-analyzed to the point of absurdity. (And yes, I am indeed saying that on my own blog.) You can’t find something more heavily ingrained in our pop culture than Star Wars.

You also can’t find a more opinionated fandom. These movies and this universe connect with people on such a personal level. So something that’s perceived as wrong or harmful can spark a tidal wave of emotion. The prequels taught a generation of geeks (myself included) how to pick a movie apart and spit it back at its creators. We love Star Wars, but we are forever on guard from being burned again. As such, any and all future Star Wars films will be under a microscope as long as fans can access the internet. 

The Bottom Line
The Last Jedi does not live up to its hype. But that hype was so ridiculous that you almost can’t fault it for that.

Almost.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, and I appreciate that they surprised us, and are trying to avoid doing the original trilogy over again. But the plain and simple truth is that they tried to do too much with too many characters. As such, the movie’s focus is spread too thin. It almost feels like they shot their wad, and won’t have anything left for Episode IX. We’ll find out in two years, when thankfully JJ Abrams will be back in the director’s chair.

Help us, JJ. You’re are only hope… (No pressure.)

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Talking Star Wars: Looking Back at The Force Awakens

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are going to see The Last Jedi tonight. So naturally, last night we sat down to watch The Force Awakens. It was her idea, actually. Ladies, if you’re husband is a geek, ask him if he’s up for sitting down with some chili and a Star Wars movie. See what happens.

Obviously I’ve seen it a number of times already. In addition to officially reviewing it two years ago, I’ve discussed numerous elements here and there. The Force Awakens rightfully got a lot of flack for mimicking the original film. But I still love it. I can’t help it. There’s just something about Star Wars that brings out the inner child in so many of us. The Force Awakens did that in a way the prequels didn’t.

Moreso, The Force Awakens was a hell of an accomplishment. It breathed so much new life into the franchise, by introducing new faces and telling new stories. It restored some of the magic of the original trilogy by incorporating more practical effects, and not leaning so heavily on CGI. We had yet another epic score from the incomparable John Williams. In the end, it set the bar pretty damn high for Disney’s foray into the Star Wars universe.

What follows are a some notes I jotted down during the movie. This was my last stop on the road to The Last Jedi. Sometimes in order to appreciate where we’re going, you must first remember where you’ve been…

Mere minutes into the movie, Mrs. Primary Ignition asks: “Who built BB-8?” A fair question, I suppose. It’s sometimes tough to wrap your head around the idea that these robots, who play such pivotal roles in these movies, were mass produced in a factory somewhere. Unless you’re C-3PO, of course.

What The Force Awakens suffers from more than anything is a lack of exposition. When we were last in this universe, the Empire was being dealt a fatal blow. The implication was that they were gone for good. Then in the opening title crawl we’re told the First Order has “risen from the ashes of the Empire.” So where did they come from, and when? How did they acquire all their resources? Has there been relative peace in the three decades since Return of the Jedi? I understand certain things had to be kept a mystery. But little tidbits here and there to fill in the gaps would have been helpful.

Captain Phasma has a great look. Her armor is a nice extension of the stormtrooper get-up, and works as a symbol of the unwavering strength of the First Order. It’s also perfect to base toys off of. That always helps.

On a similar note, I’ve never liked the blasters the First Order troopers use. The mix of white and black makes them look like toy guns.

You can pinpoint the moment the audience is supposed to understand Rey is a good guy. When she’s sitting there cleaning off the parts she found in the old Star Destroyer, she looks at a frail old lady across from her doing some cleaning of her own. We see sympathy and compassion on her face. Thus, we make a positive connection with her. Remember, t this point in the film Rey hasn’t spoken yet. So it’s a nice subtle move.

The Empire’s last stand took place on Jakku. That’s why we see the crashed Star Destroyer, the downed AT-AT that Rey lives in, etc. But no one else us this. Again, lack of exposition. It doesn’t make or break the film either way, but it would have helped.

There are a lot of little details that are meant to make your brain associate The Force Awakens with the original trilogy. The noise the mouse droids make. The placement of the gas masks on the Millennium Falcon. The belch noise from the rathtar monster. That’s to say nothing of the more overt stuff, like the chess board and remote on the Falcon.

The Mos Eisley Cantina has to be one of the most imitated settings in cinematic history. Even within in the Star Wars universe, creators can’t help but put their spin on the idea. We obviously get that here with Maz Kanata’s cantina. It was fine. But it was pretty obvious what they were doing.

Should Kylo Ren/Ben Solo have had a pale, worn face that hadn’t seen light in awhile? When he takes his helmet off, he just looks like a normal guy. But I picture him never wanting to be seen without it, much like Darth Vader.

There’s a great little moment with Leia that was cut from the movie. Now that Carrie Fisher is gone, I really wish they’d kept it in. Leia is talking to someone about contacting the Senate and insisting action be taking against the First Order.

“Not all the senators think I’m insane. Or maybe they do. I don’t care.”

That line, and the way she delivers it, are so great. Considering how open Carrie Fisher was about her own mental illness, I bet she loved that line. I don’t think the line between Carrie and Leia was ever thinner than during those three sentences.

My favorite exchange in the movie happens between Han and Finn while they’re trying to infiltrate the Starkiller Base.

“Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!”

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Han’s death scene is still hard to watch. Even when you know it’s coming, it doesn’t help. That horrified roar from Chewie might be the worst part of it all.

There’s a fan theory that Han actually pointed the lightsaber at himself, allowing Ben to turn it on and kill him. The idea being that he knew Snoke would kill Ben if he failed to carry out the deed. It doesn’t make the most sense. But stranger things have happened.

I love the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey. There’s very little fancy fight choreography, and neither look like extremely polished fighters. They’re just wailing on each other. It’s also a different environment than we’ve ever seen a lightsaber fight, which is accentuated when Rey uses the snow to extinguish Ren’s weapon.

The music callback from A New Hope when Rey catches the lightsaber is a touching moment. We heard it when Luke accepted his call to adventure, and now Rey is accepting hers. A hero is born.

On paper, you’d think the ending to this movie would be infuriating. We finally find Luke Skywalker, and then the movie ends. But it works.

Despite only appearing on camera for a matter of seconds, Mark Hamill did not have an easy job. He had so much to covey in so little time. This is the first time we’ve seen the character in so many years, and so much has happened. So the audience is just staring at him, taking in all the details.

I’ve heard that Hamill steals the show in The Last Jedi. I hope that’s the case. It’s time for mainstream moviegoers to see what we in the geek community have known for a long time: This man is a gem.

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A Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5 Review – Droid Martial Arts

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5, 2016, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #5
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Phil Noto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: August 17, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve curbed my expectations when it comes to this Poe Dameron series. I’m no longer looking for info regarding the state of the galaxy before The Force Awakens. This is simply an action-adventure title, which is fair enough. What I didn’t expect coming into issue #5 was for BB-8 to steal the show.

Poe, Black Squadron, and Agent Terex of the First Order remain trapped in Megalox Beta, a deadly prison run by the slippery and devilishly clever Grakkus the Hutt. Grakkus has struck a bargain with Poe and Terex: Whoever can break him out the fastest gets the location of Lor San Tekka, the man who reportedly knows the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker. Terex definitely has connections that Poe doesn’t. But Poe also has friends in high places…

BB-8 becomes the hero in this issue, leading the other Black Squadron astromech droids on a mission to compromise the prison’s security system. What follows is essentially Mission Impossible meets “Duel of he Droids.” The astromechs hide from guards, until we get what can only be described as a bit of droid martial arts (shown below). It’s a lot of fun, and very reminiscent of the BB-8 we saw in The Force Awakens.

Poe Dameron #5, 2016, droid martial artsSoule and Noto also do a tremendous job of capturing the charm and heart Oscar Issac put into the Poe character. He’s one for sarcastic quips, obviously. But he’s also a born leader. He’s compassionate and empathetic toward his teammates, and he stays positive even in the most dire scenarios. Soule gets Poe Dameron.

Phil Noto is pretty good at drawing him, too. Handling the pencils, inks, and colors on this series, Noto makes each setting in this issue very distinct. A sickly yellow haze hangs over Megalox Beta. Terex finds his way into a dingy and dimly lit cantina, not unlike the one we saw at Mos Eisley. The hangar the droids initially find themselves in is very calm, and has an almost relaxing quality to it with different shades of grayish blue. A stark contrast to the chaos they’re about to cause. And it all feels very familiar, very Star Wars. Noto also gives us a great cliffhanger shot, with the camera down on BB-8’s level as he looks up at a sizable new adversary.

Poe Dameron isn’t the book I wanted it to be. But the last two issues have been more fun, adventurous, and exciting than most of the Star Wars content Marvel has put out since it got the license back. It’s tough to sling mud at something like that.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Star Wars: C-3PO #1 Review – Ghosts in the Machine

Star Wars: C-3PO #1, 2016, James Robinson, Tony HarrisTITLE: Star Wars: C-3PO #1
AUTHOR: James Robinson
PENCILLER: Tony Harris
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: April 13, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Like many a moviegoer, I enjoyed the hell out of The Force Awakens. But one of the more bizarre choices made in that film was C-3PO inexplicably having a red arm. It was never even explained, despite Threepio pointing it out mere seconds after he first appears on camera. Because they didn’t tell us how he got it, it became a distraction. What’s more, this issue, which finally tells us how he got the arm, was supposed to come out in December. After numerous delays, it’s finally hit comic shops four months after it was originally solicited.

On the plus side, it’s a pretty cool story. I’m not sure I buy one of the central concepts James Robinson presents. But the core idea is definitely worthy of the iconic character on the page.

Set shortly before The Force Awakens, our story finds C-3PO stranded in the wild with a group of droids. One of them, a First Order protocol droid named OMRI, is their prisoner. OMRI contains information vital to the rescue of Admiral Ackbar, who has been captured and may soon be executed. But Threepio, OMRI, and their companions are more than vulnerable to the elements. It’s not just Ackbar’s life that’s at stake in all of this.

Star Wars: C-3PO #1, Tony Harris, image 1Fans of Robinson and Harris’ acclaimed Starman series are obviously in for a treat here, as the band is back together. Visually, this issue is unlike anything Marvel has put out since re-aquiring the Star Wars license. Everything here is much darker, with a lot of heavy inks. On the upside, this issue definitely stands out. Threepio and his robots comrades look great. On the downside, Harris’ style doesn’t lend itself to the richly detailed environments one often sees in a Star Wars comic. Granted, this world looks pretty barren. But I’d still like to be able to see where the robots are.

The theme of the issue revolves around the place droids occupy at the bottom of the galaxy’s pecking order. One of the reasons C-3PO and R2-D2 are such prominent characters in A New Hope is so the conflict between the Rebellion and the Empire could be seen from that unusual perspective. The galaxy’s underclass, so to speak. The move was inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s work in The Hidden Fortress.

This issue suggests that protocol droids, like Threepio and OMRI, have an extra degree of sentience compared to other robots. As such they can question things, such as the actions of their human masters. Though his memory was erased at the end of Revenge of the Sith, Threepio can vaguely remember some of the events of the prequels (see the image above). Such memories are described by OMRI as “a phantom limb inside my memory banks.”

The idea of droids having sentience, personalities, and even referring to having a “life” isn’t new. But the notion of robots being able to remember things prior to a memory wipe is, at least to yours truly. Granted, this is all sci-fi logic. But there’s something I find hard to process about Threepio still having traces of his old memories. If you wipe a computer’s memory, there aren’t select files left over, are there? Unless you have them backed up somewhere…but that’s not what they said!

Star Wars: C-3PO #1, 2016, image 2Perhaps I’m reading too deeply into this…

Oh, and Threepio loses his arm to an underwater tentacle creature of sorts. Don’t worry though, he’s not too broken up about it: “This isn’t the first time I’ve lost that old thing.”

The red arm we see in the movie belongs to OMRI. He sacrifices himself to acid rain (which reveals red a red coat of primer) to save Threepio. While the two droids are on opposite sides, OMRI opts to choose his own destiny. It’s very much a fitting end to a story about robot existentialism. Still, it seems like Threepio and OMRI became friends awfully fast. Especially considering the whole prisoner dynamic.

Some of Threepio’s dialogue is also a little irritating, as he has to repeat (i.e. translate for the reader) what some of the other droids say. Lots of stuff in the vein of: “Yes Peewee-Ninety-Nine, I know you’re a military-grade class four security droid. You were quite vocal on the matter earlier.” But it’s very much in character for ol’ Goldenrod. So I can’t fault Robinson for that.

While not flawless by any means, Star Wars: C-3PO #1 is unique. Compared to everything else we’ve been getting from Marvel, it looks and feels very different. Plus, as it answers a pressing question from The Force Awakens, it’s also proven worthy of mainstream press. I can’t say I loved it, but if you’re a Star Wars fan it’s worth picking up.

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 Review – Before the Awakening…

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1TITLE: Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Phil Noto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: April 6, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Star Wars: Poe Dameron has a lot going for it. Soule is an excellent writer who has experience in that galaxy far, far away. Phil Noto is supremely talented. There’s a lot of buzz coming off The Force Awakens, and there’s still much we don’t know about the events leading up to that movie. What’s more, Poe comes off very likable here.

So is it wrong that I left this issue disappointed?

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 picks up shortly before the events of The Force Awakens. General Leia Organa sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron, in search of Lor San Tekka (the man we saw Poe with at the beginning of the movie). Leia believes him to be their best hope of locating her brother, Luke Skywalker. But as Poe will learn, the First Order will not hesitate to strike if opportunity arises.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1, Phil NotoThe solicitation for this issue told us this series would give us “backstory leading directly into the holidays’ greatest adventure.” So it’s not exactly surprising to see the story focus on Lor San Tekka, and the details on what brought Poe to him. But it bears repeating: There’s still so much about the state of the galaxy that we don’t know. How was The First Order formed? What was the New Republic like? Lor San Tekka was a member of something called the “Church of the Force.” What the hell was that about?

Sadly, we didn’t get much in terms of information. We also don’t learn much about our title character. It’s not like we need to have a big revelation. Just a nugget of new info would have done the trick.

On the plus side, it’s not like this series is going anywhere any time soon. As it’s an ongoing series, Poe Dameron has plenty of time to give us new insight into these characters and their world. I just wish we’d got something here to help hook readers. I know it would have helped me in that respect…

Phil Noto is a very welcome addition to this book, having just come off of the Chewbacca miniseries. He’s very good at capturing the actors’ likenesses, while still keeping his his flair for animation in there. The little touches he adds to Poe and Leia’s faces in this issue really make them come to life. He also draws a damn fine BB-8, and a gorgeous X-Wing fighter. Hopefully he gets a well-deserved chance to have a decent run here.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1, Black SquadronThis issue sees Poe assemble Black Squadron, i.e. the star fighter pilots from The Force Awakens. We see one of the member is L’ulo, a green-skinned alien we first saw in Shattered Empire, who flew with Poe’s mother. We don’t see them touch on that here, aside from a brief mention that L’ulo has fighting with Leia for years. But it’s definitely something they can touch on later.

Charles Soule writes a very witty and likable Poe. The issue sends him into a giant cavern of some kind, where he finds a group of people who worship a big egg of some kind. That’s not exactly the direction I hoped this issue would take, but Soule is good at writing Poe with his back against the wall. At one point, Poe is trying to get himself out of a jam, and says: “What’s with the tone? No one wants to hurt your egg. I like your egg!” Combine that sort of humor with the presence of the adorable and faithful BB-8, and our book is in good hands.

We also get a brief back up story by Chris Eliopoulos, which is very comic strip-ish in the vein of Calvin & Hobbes. We see BB-8 become the go-between for two pilots who are crushing on each other. The Earth didn’t move for me on this one. But no harm done.

Star Wars: Poe Dameron #1 is a good start. Not a great one, but a good one. There’s a lot of potential to continue expanding this portion of the Star Wars timeline, if Soule, Noto, and the team are allowed to. With Episode VIII getting closer every day, that might not be a bad  idea….

Images from author’s collection.

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A Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free For Your Protection

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, posterTITLE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Issaac
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 135 min
RELEASED: December 18, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, The Los Angeles Times ran article about John Williams composing the music for The Force Awakens. The famous film score composer said he felt “a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of [George] Lucas’ creation — but revivified it.”

That’s pretty much been the energy surrounding The Force Awakens as a whole. We’ve all felt it. This film represents a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. And the box office figures indicate, we’re ready to greet the day.

The plot for this movie has been delightfully shrouded in mystery from the get-go, and I see no reason to go into detail now. But here are the basics. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Near the top of their ranks is Kylo Ren, a mysterious warrior following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. But new heroes will rise, such as Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku. At her side is Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose conscious led him away from the violent First Order. This duo will fight alongside none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, heroes of the Galactic Civil War. All the while, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, searches for the one hero missing amidst the conflict: Luke Skywalker.

Rey, Finn, BB-8, Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs a life-long Star Wars fan, I can indeed confirm that The Force Awakens is good. But it’s a different kind of Star Wars movie. Not drastically so, but Star Wars die-hards may notice. Certain portions have dimmer lighting, which leads to a darker vibe. There’s also a little more blood than we’re used to seeing from Star Wars. It’s still a scarce amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable. I attribute this to the absence of George Lucas, who wasn’t there to micromanage things in his own…ehem…unique way.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m a George Lucas fan. But if The Force Awakens proves anything, it’s that Star Wars needed to get away from him. The man who wrote and directed the prequels could not have created a movie like this. This movie gives us new heroes we can invest in and care about. While it doesn’t shy away from nostalgiac winks here and there, it doesn’t need to be propped up by original trilogy elements the way the prequels did. It’s a thrill ride very much worthy of the Star Wars legacy.

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe original trilogy character we spend the most time with is Han Solo, who is as charming and witty as ever. Harrison Ford essentially gives us exactly what we wanted to see from that character. He’s not necessarily the same daring rogue. But he’s still Han Solo. We also see a good amount of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. It’s especially cathartic to see her in the role again. It’s such an iconic character, and she deserved that renewed spotlight. As for Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker…that would be a spoiler.

Most of the new characters we meet are intriguing. But for my money, none are more interesting than Kylo Ren. It’s encouraging that he’s not simply a Darth Vader clone. He’s very much his own man, with his own demons. Some may argue that makes him less threatening than Vader, or other Star Wars villains. But without saying too much, there’s a level of instability there that should make for an entertaining journey.

Captain Phasma, Star Wars: The Force AwakensA fair complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s simply the original Star Wars film done over again. The similarities are undeniable. We have our hero on a desert planet who gets a call-to-action from a droid, and is quickly swept into a galactic war against a Nazi-like organization with a base that has the power to destroy planets. Sound familiar? At one point, they even do a side-by-side comparison of Starkiller Base and the Death Star. The inside of the base is also clearly modeled after the Death Star!

Given what we’d seen from our most recent Star Wars movies, I’d argue a throwback isn’t the worst thing in the world. This movie gives people the Star Wars they want to see. Good and evil, the Rebellion and the Empire, Jedi and Sith. Some of the names have changed, but at their core, they’re the same. As a bonus, we even get to see some of the faces we fell in love with from the original trilogy.

131416_ori The Force Awakens is designed to jump-start the Star Wars franchise, getting us to remember what we loved about the originals while introducing new faces to carry the brand into the future. It accomplishes that goal, easily giving us the best installment in the series since Return of the Jedi. Lingering questions do remain, but I expect they’ll be resolved in future films. It’s fun to watch The Force Awakens, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from Star Wars in recent years, it’s that sense of fun and adventure. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and everybody else involved with this movie deserve credit for living up to the hype, and restoring something that was lost.

So rejoice Jedi, wookies, droids, and even you damn gungans! Star Wars is fun again!

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.

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