Quite a bit has been said and written about this film’s similarities to the priors, in particular A New Hope. I think almost all of this is intentional, not just in putting in characters and visual references from earlier movies, but in overarching theme and plot. I rather suspected/hoped that this would be the case after viewing the much-maligned The Phantom Menace. The plot of that film, with its discovery of the talented young one, and the battle culminating in the destruction of the enemy’s flagship by an attack from within its defenses, also echoes the theme and plot of A New Hope, and seeing this recur again makes me “hope” that this also was not an accident nor a failure of invention. Remember, that George Lucas supposedly had nine episodes plotted out in “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker,” and it is just possible that even those years ago, an overarching plot had been envisioned, in which the cycle of time returns on itself in a spiral, not quite coming back to the same point. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history—the always short-sighted “Sith”—build ever larger and more terrifying super-weapons, only to have their technological Goliaths destroyed by the Light Side’s Davids. *
At the beginning of The Force Awakens, the galaxy is in a state of low-intensity warfare, pitting a renascent “Republic” against the remnant Empire lead by the “First Order”, with the “Rebellion” staging an anti-Empire insurgency. The McGuffin this time is not a set of plans, but a star map showing the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, who has become a hermit. Incidents surrounding the attempts to recover the data heat up the war, causing the First Order to activate its “Starkiller Base,” a planet-cracker that is an order of magnitude more dangerous than either version of the Death Star.
The next generation of heroes are caught up in the tide of events. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the Rebellion/Republic’s ace fighter pilot at least signed on for this. “Finn,” (John Boyega) a reluctant Storm Trooper dragooned into the Imperial forces as a child, finds an opportunity to desert. And Rey (Daisy Ridley) is an orphaned scavenger inhabiting a Tattoine-like desert world when Fate, perhaps literally, seeks her out. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is a conflicted Vader-wannabee, the genuine next generation of Dark Lords.
They have time to establish themselves firmly as the protagonists of the film before the old guard, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), “General” Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and R2-D2 (now apparently a genuine robot, as Kenny Baker is listed only as “R2-D2 Consultant”) put in appearances.
The plot cycles through an arc familiar from Episode 1, and especially Episode 4, but with enough variations and diversions (and one very significant surprise) to make it fresh, fun, and entertaining for the aficionados.
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