By Ross Lelieur
Senior Staff Writer
Star Wars: The Force Awakens starts off with a tremendous bang. Lasers fly and fighters whizz overhead as stormtroopers—no longer mere plastic toys but real, intimidating soldiers—rush D-Day style from carriers toward their target, already burning in the otherwise pitch dark. This first scene is delightful—invigorating and terrifying at the same time, and an example of truly breathtaking cinema. This is only the first few minutes of a film which will dazzles viewers both experienced with Star Wars and brand new, delivering on the expectations of millions while also updating the franchise—making The Force Awakens almost as groundbreaking A New Hope (1977) was 38 years ago.
And just like A New Hope, the newest film follows a youngster who dreams of something bigger, although this time around on a sandy planet called Jakku. This hopeful hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley), comes into play decades after the defeat of the empire in Return of the Jedi (1983) when, in fact, the last Jedi—Luke Skywalker—does very much the opposite of returning and disappears. Rey, through a number of fortuitous happenings; teams up with a deserting stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega), in transporting vital information regarding Luke’s location to the rebels (now called the Resistance) before the sinister First Order can retrieve it.
The vagueness of this simplified plot structure perhaps obscures the remarkable similarities that the film shares with A New Hope (1977): an isolated youngster pulled off of a sandy planet, a planet-sized death laser, a cute droid. For what is intended to be a new beginning for the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens feels distractingly similar to what audiences have already seen. It is difficult to predict whether J.J. Abrams intended this as an homage to the original trilogy, but even if this is the case the similarities are so obvious as to be disappointing; a clear waste of what could have been an opportunity to take Star Wars into interesting new territory.
But Abram’s adherence to the original trilogy does pay off in one respect: the style and cinematic feel of the older films are very clearly present in The Force Awakens. Abrams and his team display an impressive knowledge of the older Star Wars films, mimicking the cinematography without error and staying faithful to the pacing and flow of their stories. Truly, The Force Awakens feels as much a Star Wars film as any of its predecessors.