This is the space opera you’re looking for

New ‘Star Wars’ film lives up to the hype

By Brent Lindquist
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"The Force Awakens" villain Kylo Ren leads a group of First Order stormtroopers.

“The Force Awakens” villain Kylo Ren leads a group of First Order stormtroopers.

It’s often not easy to pinpoint where our obsessions began. When it comes to my affinity for science fiction, however, I remember precisely where I was when I hit the point of no return.
  I was with my mom and dad at a family friend’s place, and the third “Star Wars” movie, “Return of the Jedi,” came on the TV as we were flipping through the channels. For me, that was it. No going back. My dad bought me the movies on VHS tape and we watched them together.
  I simply couldn’t have known that, in the coming years, “Star Wars” would change a great deal. Series creator George Lucas would make a number of ill-conceived changes to his trilogy and would then refuse to release the classic three films in their original, unaltered state. From 1999 to 2005, he gave us three disastrously bad prequels and then claimed he was finished with the series. It was strange to think that, despite my dad having introduced me to these films, we had never seen a good, or even decent, “Star Wars” movie in the theater together.
  As far as I’m concerned, however, none of that bad blood matters now. Last night, I walked out of the movie theater and turned to my dad and asked, “Did we just see a good ‘Star Wars’ movie in the theater?” He and my brother both agreed that we had.
  “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is here, and it is good. Really good.
  “The Force Awakens” begins about 30 years after “Return of the Jedi.” There’s a new Rebel Alliance, called the Resistance, and a successor to the Galactic Empire, called the First Order. The film begins on a desert planet called Jakku, as the fates of several new characters intertwine one fateful night. Daisy Ridley stars as Rey, a scavenger living on Jakku. John Boyega plays Finn, a First Order deserter. Oscar Isaac is Poe Dameron, a hotshot Resistance pilot. And Adam Driver plays the bad guy, Kylo Ren.
  My biggest worry going into the new “Star Wars” flick was that filmmaker J.J. Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan would lean too heavily on characters we already know. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that this movie is a launchpad for a new cast, but I can certainly see how it would be tempting to go big on fan service in place of giving these new characters their chance to shine.
  I’m happy to say that my fears have been put to rest. A number of original-trilogy characters appear here, most prominently Han Solo and Chewbacca, but most of them do not occupy all that much screen time. It’s great to see Han and Chewie again, and we see a great deal of them, but there aren’t any characters here who feel shoehorned into the story for the sake of fan service.
  Abrams was right to trust his new cast, because they are wonderful. Ridley in particular is a joy to watch; her comic timing and emotional resonance are a big part of what makes “The Force Awakens” tick. Driver is another standout as Kylo Ren, the big-bad. He’s simultaneously heartbreaking, menacing, and utterly frightening, and he is one of my favorite parts of “The Force Awakens.”
  Boyega is also great in his role as a stormtrooper tortured by what he is ordered to do, and he expertly pulls off both the comical and the somber moments. Finn is often a funny character, which I wouldn’t have guessed from the movie’s promotional material.
  BB-8, the rolling ball droid seen in the trailers, is delightful, providing comic relief without becoming the token “comic relief” character. He’s visually and aurally distinct, and I still can’t help but look at him and think, “How does this thing work?” He’s a practical special effect that was actually built for the movie, just one of many that Abrams insisted on building rather than creating on the computer. The work pays off, because these worlds and characters, both aliens and droids, feel real.
  The returning cast is great to see, especially Harrison Ford, reprising the role of a character he once asked George Lucas to kill off. He’s in fine form here, playing Han Solo with as much charisma as ever. He’s still our favorite lovable scoundrel, through and through.
  If I have one complaint about “The Force Awakens,” it’s that it feels a little too fast. This is a brisk movie, moving from place to place and battle to battle far faster than its predecessors. It’s the quickest two hours and 16 minutes I’ve ever sat through, and while that certainly keeps the proceedings brisk, there is sometimes a lack of buildup. Remember when the X-Wings approached the Death Star in the original “Star Wars,” and each pilot called out his callsign as the crafts moved into attack position? There isn’t much of that here. The battles just sort of begin, which is fine, but it all feels a bit rushed at times.
  Still, expectations were high heading into “The Force Awakens,” and I’m happy to report that it has easily met mine. It feels a bit familiar, and fast, but it’s a wonderful setup for what’s to come. The new characters are, thankfully, a worthy next generation. There are dark moments and heartbreaking scenes, but it all just feels so positive. It’s simple again, focusing on good versus evil rather than taxation, government corruption and systemic oppression like the prequels did, and that might be the highest praise I can give “The Force Awakens.” This feels like “Star Wars” again, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.