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Arts and Entertainment

'The Force Awakens' Brings 'Star Wars' Back To The Glory Of The Classic Films

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The past looms large in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest installment in the most beloved film franchise of all time. Literal debris of the Empire clutters the Star Wars galaxy now—particularly a desert planet known as Jakku—and director J.J. Abrams has been burdened with creating a sequel that may as well be a reboot. Hearkening back to the original trilogy in heavy doses, its implied goal was the wipe away the stain of the much-maligned prequel trilogy, a wound that continues to fester in the mind of Star Wars geeks like one of Darth Vader's scars.

Any fans of Star Wars will be pleased to learn that The Force Awakens is quite enjoyable, and the film's design is so impeccable that it could hardly fail at delivering what they want. The plot, of which reviewers are mostly restricted from revealing, will be quite familiar, as it mostly revisits the bulk of the original trilogy's themes and condenses it into one film. A New Hope's droid with the secret cargo and escape from a desert planet, The Empire Strikes Back's run from the bad guys, and the epic space battles from both Hope and Return Of The Jedi make the message clear: Star Wars is back to its roots.

Abrams is in his wheelhouse here—as a filmmaker his greatest ability was to tinker with a familiar product and refine it to a modern palate. George Lucas' classical sense of filmmaking is given a modern adrenaline boost with swooping cameras, plenty of explosions, and, yes, some lens flare.

Fan-service abounds in The Force Awakens, with plenty of winks and callbacks and the casting of the original stars (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill) in their iconic roles. The introduction of Han Solo, Chewbacca, General Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker may as well have each come with canned applause on the film's soundtrack. "Original" elements of The Force Awakens are essentially revisions or updates. Jakku is Tatooine except in name and less one sun, and the First Order villains and Resistance heroes are the Empire and Rebellion under new aliases 30 years after Return Of The Jedi.

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Even new characters are composites of the aforementioned torchbearers of the franchise, but the young, talented cast (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and an especially hammy Oscar Isaac) are all able to work within the archetypes to make them their very own. Ridley as Rey, a woman searching for her unknown past, brings a new spark to the the gritty self-reliance of Leia; while Adam Driver, who seems cast partly for his towering physical presence, as new bad guy Kylo Ren has an emotional intensity that is at once both terrifying and comically over the top.

Much has been made of the efforts to make The Force Awakens feel like it sits alongside the original trilogy. Reducing their reliance on digital effects does give the new worlds a lived-in feel that was lacking from the prequel trilogy, but also treading on familiar grounds limits the sense of wonder from the original films. Abrams strengths as a filmmaker are also his weakness, but for The Force Awakens he's more a shepherd than a storyteller. He's hit the reset button on a series loved by millions and set up subsequent films for greater adventures in a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens everywhere on Friday.

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