‘The Force Awakens’: A return to greatness

by Richard Roeper

It’s a return to greatness.

Nearly 40 years after “Star Wars” exploded the pop culture universe and practically became a religion for generations of fans, and a full decade after many of those same fans felt betrayed and defeated by “Revenge of the Sith,” the seventh “Star Wars” movie could well bear the same subtitle as the original:

“A New Hope.”

What a beautiful, thrilling, joyous, surprising and heart-thumping adventure this is. “The Force Awakens” pops with memorable battle sequences, gives us chills with encore appearances by stars from the original trilogy and introduces more than a half-dozen terrific Next Generation characters.

If the U.S. presidential election were held this weekend, director-producer-co-writer J.J. Abrams might carry the day based on geek support alone.

“The Force Awakens” is set about 30 years after the events of “Return of the Jedi.” Of course, Abrams begins with the familiar blue text telling us this all takes place “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” and then we get the iconic yellow crawl text giving us some basic backstory and letting us know where we are now.

Combining local shoots, elaborate studio set pieces, practical effects and CGI, “The Force Awakens” is often visually dazzling, whether it’s a sled ride of sorts down a desert hill, the midnight-black universe is suddenly lit up with firefights and explosions, or we’re introduced to miraculous creatures such as Maz Kanata, a tiny power broker who might not have the wisdom of Yoda but knows a lot about what’s going on.

It’s no Spoiler Alert to acknowledge Harrison Ford’s return as Han Solo – and it’s a full-fledged role, not just an extended cameo. At 73, he seems to be having more fun playing Han Solo now than he did back in the day.

Not everyone will love the new “Star Wars.” Maybe some fans and critics won’t find the fresh characters nearly as memorable as the classics. No doubt some will be flat-out ticked off at certain developments.

Better to take such risks than to give us a “Star Wars” sequel that plays it safe or ventures into weirdness and goofiness and Jar Jar Binks.


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