'Star Wars:" What's old is new again

This photo provided by Lucasfilm shows Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford as Han Solo in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Early screenings of the film begin Thursday night, Dec. 17, 2015. (Film Frame/Lucasfilm via AP) -
By: 
Josh Presley
Film Critic

Before you read any further, yes this review will be spoiler free, difficult as that may be. I’ve been staring at a blank Word document off and on for a couple hours now debating whether or not it’s even possible to review “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” beyond saying “It’s great. It’s ‘Star Wars.’ Go see it.”
I’ve been anxious for “The Force Awakens” more so than any other movie I’ve ever seen. For months I’d wondered, will I be able to avoid spoilers? Will a first-night crowd of “Star Wars” fanatics ruin the experience? Will it be good? Those questions in no way deterred me from purchasing my ticket for the very first showing at the Columbus Malco more than an month ago.
Other than the first teaser, which I recall watching about five times in a row the day after Thanksgiving 2014 in my office, and the following two official trailers, I have almost religiously avoided viewing or reading anything about the movie. I was desperate to maintain the level of wonder and excitement I felt while watching the last trailer.
I was excited throughout the weeks leading up to the first showing on Thursday, and downright anxious in the preceding few days. There were butterflies in my stomach all day on Thursday, and I left that evening with the intention of arriving at the theater about 30 minutes before the movie started in order to get a good seat.
It wasn’t early enough and I wound up sitting on the bottom row of the stands. My eyes and neck cursed me along the way, and continue to do so as I type this hours later. There were more than a few “Star Wars” t-shirts in the crowd, along with families dressed as Jedis and Wookies. I could feel I wasn’t the only anxious one amongst the audience. “Can you believe we’re just one minute from seeing this?” I heard from the group behind me. People rushed for a final bathroom break or one last refill of popcorn, because we were in it for the long haul. We were a theater filled to the brim with children, parents, grandparents, and 20- and 30-something geeks patiently sitting through the trailers to finally reach the moment we’d waited for years to experience. And then it happened.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way…”
We were there. John Williams’ familiar musical fanfare kicked in, and we were all transported to the world of “Star Wars.” So, if you’re still with me, here’s what I thought of the movie:
It was immediately apparent that we are as far as we can get from George Lucas’ prequel abominations. We are introduced to actual characters, who behave and interact as naturally as you can hope. Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a scavenger from a desert planet. Jon Boyega’s Finn, a reformed storm trooper of the dreaded First Order. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, a dashing X-wing pilot of the Resistance. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, a ruthless commander in the First Order and attuned to the dark side of the Force. And of course, BB-8, the adorable little ball droid you’ve been seeing in all the trailers who steals every scene for which he’s featured.
We spend plenty of time throughout the first act of the movie getting to know our new heroes (and villains), so that we can care about them later. “The Force Awakens” is about finding sweet spots wherein to reintroduce older characters and concepts, and before long Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) have joined the fray.
To say anything of the plot would be a spoiler at this point, I think, but I can talk about the characters, the design and the action.
Ford and Mayhew are a delight to have back as Han and Chewie, and they seem to be having a blast (several blasts) bringing life to these characters one more time. Han’s arc is one of regret, and of course the Wookie has stuck by him every step of the way.
Despite the ensemble, Rey is essentially our main character, along with Finn. They are smart, witty, personable characters that I’ll be more than happy to see throughout the remaining episodes of this new trilogy. Isaac’s Poe Dameron gets the shorter end of the stick, as far as screen time, as he is an appealing presence whenever onscreen. I hope we’ll be seeing more of him in future installments.
Adam Driver is top notch as the villainous Kylo Ren, though explaining the details of why I found his performance so complex would entail a spoiler.
Director JJ Abrams does a marvelous job juggling his ensemble cast, and it felt as though everyone at least had something important to do. Though, again, I could have used more Poe Dameron.
The action and set design will take you back to the time when “Star Wars” didn’t rely so heavily on CGI and green screen effects. There’s a fair amount of CG, as to be expected, but Abrams’ crew also went out of their way to shoot on 35 mm film and produce as many practical locations and creatures as possible.
Abrams takes you into the middle of battle scenes in a way that does not sacrifice clarity. The action is based on character and the filmmakers go from there. I felt like I was watching an actual thing take place, as opposed to a cartoon set on top of a painting. Abrams’ world feels lived in, and that’s it’s greatest connection to the original trilogy.
No, it doesn’t exactly feel like the “Star Wars” of your childhood. It feels like the “Star Wars” of today, and worlds away from the sanitized, overly green-screened mess that was the prequels. You’ll meet knew heroes and you’ll like them. You’ll boo and hiss at a new villain. You’ll clap and cheer for the old familiar faces (of which there are many), but hopefully you’ll leave the theater with similar thoughts to mine. Maybe there were a few plot points that could have used some work. Maybe we didn’t get to spend as much time with certain characters or ideas, but you’ll leave the theater knowing you just saw a “Star Wars” movie. A real “Star Wars” movie that takes you back to the magic of the original trilogy.
“The Force Awakens” is the kind of movie that’s worth the wait, worth the anxiety and worth braving the legions of other fans on opening weekend in the theater.
Dear reader, you’ve waited years — in some cases decades — for this movie. The one that comes along and reminds you of why you loved the franchise to begin with.
Now get your ticket. Run, don’t walk. Sit down in whichever row you can find in a crowded movie theater, and may the Force be with you.

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