Family Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (PG-13)

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StarWarsTheForceAwakens ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13          Length: 135 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. This “Star Wars” sequel brings a lot of nostalgia to the table, but that doesn’t mean it skimps on violence. There are numerous action sequences, including a village being slaughtered by Stormtroopers, many characters die, shoot-outs and lightsaber duels, implied torture, and worlds being destroyed; some implied romantic tension; and an implied rude hand gesture by a droid.

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ infuses its story with so much nostalgia that you would think the much-hyped sequel isn’t truly that original. But how the latest in the franchise both respects and rearranges the series’s mythology into something new is invigorating and reassuring.

By Roxana Hadadi

The expectations surrounding “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” have been inescapable and unyielding: After the fiasco of the prequel trilogy, “The Force Awakens” had to be great. It’s not a flawless film — it relies perhaps too much on adult nostalgia for the original trilogy to make up for storytelling shortcuts — but oh man, is “The Force Awakens” a fun one, a reassuring, often thrilling return to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Most of the elements of “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” are recreated here by director J. J. Abrams, the filmmaker so good at mimicking the work of others while simultaneously paying them homage (his “Super 8” is basically Steven Spielberg-lite; his “Star Trek” films have been respectful of the originals without really being independently creative). There’s a scavenger teenager, growing up without a family on a desert planet. There are major moral choices, ethical dilemmas between right and wrong that matter not only to the individual making them but to the society surrounding them.

And there are, very comfortingly, cute droids (BB-8 will change your life, and if you are a parent, please prepare to be buying toys of this thing forever), the light and dark sides of the Force, and a rogue smuggler and a warrior princess with lots of history. Practically everything you loved about the original trilogy is in “The Force Awakens,” which sidelines creator George Lucas’s prequels so thoroughly that you could very well forget that they even exist.

“The Force Awakens” uses the classic “Star Wars” rolling-text intro to fill us in: Years after the events of Episodes 4 through 6, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared, and his twin sister Leia (Carrie Fisher) has risen to be the leading general of the Resistance. In the shadow of the defeated Empire has risen the First Order, another Nazi-esque fascist group that aims to destroy the Jedi once and for all, to remove what they perceive as “chaos” threatening the galaxy. What Luke, Leia, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford, of “The Age of Adaline”) accomplished all that time ago is seen as a myth to current generations, a story passed down that may not even have been real.

In that world lives Finn (John Boyega, of “Attack the Block”), a Stormtrooper who undergoes a change of heart when tasked with destroying a village and killing tons of innocent people. “I’m not a hero. I was taken from a family I’ll never know,” he says, but he knows killing isn’t what he wants to do, even though he was raised by the First Order to do just that.

He soon crosses paths with Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young woman barely scraping by as a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku. Finn runs into Rey while chasing the droid BB-8, who belongs to the Resistance pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac, of “The Two Faces of January”), who ends up captured by the First Order Jedi baddie Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, of “What If”). Everyone is trying to find Luke, but what if he doesn’t want to be found? And what of the First Order’s plans to destroy the galaxy’s government, the Republic, in their quest for total domination – how do Finn and Rey fit in, let alone help stop it?

To say too much would be to spoil things, but on a fundamental level, what’s so impressive about “The Force Awakens” is how Abrams has made a movie that feels “Star Wars” in all ways while also feeling thoroughly modern. It is impossible to overstate how amazing it feels to watch this film, which is definitely the largest movie of the year and possibly of the decade, and see that a young black man and a young woman are its stars, and a major villain is a woman, and another hero is Latin American. “Star Wars” probably has the world’s largest fanbase, and its latest installment reflects that international fanbase in an intentional, thoughtful way. It’s pretty great.

And there is so much other good stuff here! The aforementioned BB-8, aggressively adorable; an excellent lightsaber duel in a snow-covered forest, a fantastically done nod to the samurai influences in the original “Star Wars” trilogy; a good undercurrent of slapstick, including Stormtroopers backing away from Kylo Ren as he throws a tantrum with a lightsaber. The film just flows along, winking at the old while weaving in the new, and the result is enjoyably multidimensional.

That’s not to overlook the film’s flaws, which include a very exposition-heavy script, character development that feels overzealous for Rey but a little underwritten for Finn (his moral choice isn’t given enough attention, even though it’s perhaps the most significant of the film), and bad guys that aren’t really frightening, at least not in the way Darth Vader was.

But Abrams adds so much humor and so much joy to “The Force Awakens” that those problems, while obvious, aren’t that irritating. “A New Hope” wasn’t a perfect movie, either, and look what that started — the new era of “Star Wars” is finally here.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.