One of the thrills of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — and there are many — is seeing the Millennium Falcon fly again.
Other than a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo in one of the prequels, the ship has been MIA since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.”
Now the Falcon, like most of the crew from the 1977 original, gets plenty of screen time in “The Force Awakens.” After being derided as junk (again), the ship races through the wreckage of an Imperial Star Destroyer and dips and dives across a desert landscape.
The Falcon — as unreliable as it is beloved — is the essence of why the original trilogy worked and the prequels did not. That the old bucket of bolts still has a few surprises left in her is testament both to its pilot in the film, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), and director J.J. Abrams.
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I’ll make this as spoiler-free as possible: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing. Not only is the Resistance (the old Rebellion) searching for him, so is the First Order, a fascist galactic army risen from the ashes of the Empire.
On the desert planet of Jakku, a First Order squadron led by Darth Vader devotee Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) attacks a village, hunting down Resistance fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and some new intel on Luke’s whereabouts.
During the attack, Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) develops a crisis of conscience, and he soon deserts, taking along the captured Poe, who promptly rechristens him Finn. They escape to Jakku to recover the info Poe stowed away in his adorable rolling droid, BB-8, which has found its way to desert scavenger Rey. The First Order gives chase, and, well, those are all the plot points we’re comfortable spilling.
Those who love this galaxy already have purchased tickets. Many aren’t going to mind that the story’s reliance on coincidence sometimes stinks worse than the innards of a tauntaun. Few will care that the weapons and vehicles routinely break the laws of physics.
A few more, though, might be troubled by the ethnic stereotypes. Boyega’s Finn is basically a buffoon (not quite Jar Jar Binks, but no Lando Calrissian, either). And Maz Kanata, a computer-generated creature voiced by Kenyan Lupito Nyong’o, is another take on the trope of a native with magical knowledge.
Instead of thinking too deeply about it, most simply are going to be thrilled to see the gang back together without the prequels’ hokey talk of trade embargoes, midichlorians and the rough and coarse properties of sand.
We have seen enough of Abrams’ directorial work — an homage to Steven Spielberg with “Super 8,” a “Star Trek” reboot and its sequel and a chapter in the “Mission: Impossible” series — that we know what we’re going to get: a competent re-enactment of our childhood fantasies.
“The Force Awakens” is more than competent. It’s quite good. But sometimes it feels like a really expensive fan film.
Abrams uses so many of the same story beats — a cute droid, a desert orphan, a planet-destroying weapon — and peppers the screen with so many quotes and visual references, it’s easy to wonder if “The Force Awakens” could have done without another character saying “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” — again. .
But, at the same time, this is what George Lucas did with the original “Star Wars.” He duct-taped together elements of sci-fi, medieval fantasy, Westerns and old movie serials into a souped-up hot rod of cultural mythology. He even took Harrison Ford, the Chevy-driving hero of his “American Graffitti,” and put him behind the wheel of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.
Except in the 21st century cultural echo chamber, Abrams’ references for “The Force Awakens” are “Star Wars” itself. He has taken a franchise that was showing signs of disrepair, strapped some new parts onto it and got it running. He didn’t have to make a perfect film — Disney will be making “Star Wars” movies long after we’re all dead — he just had to make a vehicle we all wanted to ride in again.
“The Force Awakens,” like the original trilogy, raises a great many more questions than it answers. And the future journey also is set up quite well with the new cast. Isaac’s hero Poe is noble and witty, though he is gone for long stretches. Despite the aforementioned cliches, Boyega’s Finn is a blank slate with potential for growth.
The revelations here, though, are Ridley and Driver. Rey, like Princess Leia, is no pushover, holding her own both in hand-to-hand combat and in piloting skills. And Driver’s Kylo Ren is tortured, menacing and unstable, as opposed to Darth Vader, who was mostly just imposing. Abrams and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have created a villain who seems truly dangerous and a hero with the potential to challenge him.
At the same time, the “Star Wars” galaxy feels right again. Instead of the shine of the prequels, these worlds are covered in dust and grime. The Falcon looks held together by force of will. The fates of our heroes — both new characters and old — are undecided.
If “The Force Awakens” wasn’t part of some larger story, prone to be dissected and overanalyzed until the next episode arrives in two years (and beyond), it might be just another in a crowded field of forgettable special effects bonanzas.
Still, the first thing I thought as the credits rolled was that I can’t wait to see it again.
‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’