entertainment

'Force Awakens' is the 'Star Wars' reboot fans wanted

GARY THOMPSON, Staff Writer

Updated: Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 12:02 PM

Daisy Ridley as Rey, left, and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," directed by J.J. Abrams.

My favorite movie review ever came from a "Star Wars" fan waiting outside a theater several days before George Lucas released "The Phantom Menace," the movie that commenced his second trilogy.

The fellow said he was determined to be among the first to see it, and he was determined to like it. And if he didn't like it, he was going to go back and keep seeing it until he did.

Here was an economy and eloquence worthy of James Agee, hardly undone by the fact that the man had not seen the film. What registered was his profound connection to a visionary work of cinema.

History, mercifully, does not record the tragic ending to the man's story.

But we know that he, and millions like him, spent many hundreds of hours and many hundreds of dollars trying to find some emotional connection to Lucas' soulless, inert prequels.

This was agony for many fans, because Lucas wasn't just some moviemaker. He was father to happy childhoods, and when fans tried to rediscover that happiness via "The Phantom Menace," they found that father to be . . .

Well, let's just say that Luke Skywalker knows precisely how they felt.

And so the plans for three more sequels remained immobilized in Hollywood carbonite. A stunned and embittered Lucas had lost the desire to make them, and his ownership over all things "Star Wars" made the rebirth of the story problematic.

Or nearly all things. He didn't own the love for his characters, and he couldn't kill it, and that force survived, bequeathed it to J.J. Abrams.

Abrams is no visionary, so his movies will not burn themselves into the imaginations of a new generation of moviegoers. Epic success, and epic failure, accrue to men like Lucas.

But Abrams is also no klutz, so there is no danger of "Star Wars" stumbling out of the gate like "Phantom Menace."

Abrams is a hyper-competent entertainer, and a fan, with an astute understanding of what made the original trilogy appealing.

Really, it's not that complicated. Fans want the movies to be fun, to be kinetic, and "The Force Awakens" is both most of the time. It also picks up where the original three - "Star Wars" (a/k/a "Episode IV: A New Hope"), "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" - left off.

Thus Abrams has huge advantage over the Lucas prequels - access to beloved original characters like Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Leia (Carrie Fisher). Access also to beloved artifacts - favorite droids, spacecraft, creatures. Even the new faces wear the same basic outfits as their forebearers.

And the new characters are winning.

"Force" opens on a planet where a literally fetching young woman Rey (Daisy Ridley) salvages parts from the hulking wrecks of ships destroyed in the last great contest between competing sides of the Force.

Fate puts in her in path of Finn (John Boyega), a conscience-stricken storm trooper who has deserted his post. Both end up protecting a roly poly robot carrying information prized by the galaxy's good guys (Oscar Issac is a dashing pilot) and bad guys (Adam Driver is a Darth Vader wannabe), and that's really all you need to know.

The rest is waiting around to see who has the Force, which side of it they have, and who's related to who.

The dialogue is a little better than it used to be, which seems to have energized Ford, the still-smuggling Han - who, like Leia, is now as old as Obi Wan. Leia is a general, and may have spent some time on the planet Re Hab.

The standout here is newcomer Ridley, on whose character both Finn and Abrams have an obvious crush. No wonder the director loves her - she's a salvager. In "The Force Awakens," Abrams rummages through the bin of the original three films, thrilled to be playing with his favorite toys, with a fanboy's fetishistic understanding of their totemic appeal.

You feel it in Ridley's opening scene: Rey in the monumental ruin of an Imperial Cruiser, looking for usable parts.

Stuff she can sell.

And so, the Force is still with us, and Lucas isn't Darth Vader after all.

More like Ben Kenobi, with a word of warning for the doubters who pissed all over "The Phantom Menace:" Strike me down now, and I will become more profitable than you can imagine.

thompsg@phillynews.com

215-854-5992

Blog: philly.com/keepitreel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

GARY THOMPSON, Staff Writer

Read full story: 'Force Awakens' is the 'Star Wars' reboot fans wanted

More Coverage:

Fallon, The Roots, ‘Force’ cast sing a capella ‘Star Wars’ theme