CINEMA: Heir Force



VULTURE: Director J.J. Abrams is so intuitively unoriginal that he’s almost mystical: He seems to be using the Force to get on the wavelength of other filmmakers. He aped Steven Spielberg’s signature moves in the sci-fi adventure Super 8. He rekindled Star Trek onscreen, delighting many fans — even if they couldn’t point to a single performance or scene that surpassed the old films or shows. Now, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he does a good imitation of George Lucas circa 1977. He and co-writers Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote by far the best of the series, The Empire Strikes Back) merge old and new streams, mixing Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and others into a newish plot centering on young ’uns Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). The movie has already blown away advance-sale records, and when you go (which, of course, you will) I bet you’ll have fun — I did, mostly. But it’s the fun of seeing something fairly successfully redone, with the promise of more of the same to come. It’s a fan’s wet dream and a modern studio’s, too. It says where money is concerned, the galaxy’s the limit.

The movie opens with John Williams’s triumphal orchestra blast and the titles that make us salivate on cue, followed by a backward exposition crawl announcing that Luke Skywalker has vanished and … a bunch of other stuff. I honestly couldn’t follow it all, but the takeaway is that the Dark Side is now embodied by the First Order (rather than the Empire), which borrows its rhetoric and architecture from the Third Reich, and that the Resistance, led by General (not Princess) Leia, has sent her best pilot, Poe Dameron (a funny, mouthy Oscar Isaac), to obtain a map to Luke’s location. […]

First Order massacres a bunch of people (and other life forms) and captures Poe, who has already hidden the map inside his droid, BB-8, a rolling ball topped with half of another ball with the manner of a yelping puppy. Frankly, I found him/it borderline intolerable, but the simple design is ingenious and how wonderful that he/it is not computer-generated but of our world. And there’s evidently no human inside him. He’s a real robot! In any case, BB-8 takes off the way R2-D2 and C-3PO did 38 years ago, bound for the next Luke Skywalker.

Is it Rey? She’s a scavenger on a desert planet (not unlike the young Luke) and also has a backstory that will be revealed in subsequent chapters. All we know right now is that she’s maybe possibly got Luke-ish abilities, and that the charming Ridley bears such an obvious resemblance to Keira Knightley (down to her fanged grin) that she might be a clone. The main thing is that she marks the movie’s biggest departure from Lucas’s worldview. Many critics over the years have complained that Lucas’s is a boys’ universe, but nowadays princesses fight their own battles — with lightsabers. MORE