‘Star Wars’ Just The Way You Like It

I have seen the future of Star Wars, and I am relieved to discover that it closely resembles the past. By emulating the look and feel of the original 1977 George Lucas megamovie, director J.J. Abrams has delivered comfort food for a starving (and eager) audience. Is it revolutionary or life-altering? No. Is it enjoyable? Yes…and that’s what matters most.

The events of this story (by Abrams, Michael Arndt, and series veteran Lawrence Kasdan) take place some thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi. That enables Abrams to bring back Han Solo, Princess (now General) Leia, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Chewbacca, who are most welcome and who, it must be said, have grown older gracefully. At the screening I attended, even familiar props and settings inspired bursts of applause.

As for the new characters, Daisy Ridley is a standout as the resourceful scavenger Rey, an instantly likable, take-charge character who becomes a de facto heroine. John Boyega’s character—a Storm Trooper-turned-resistance fighter—isn’t fleshed out quite yet, and an underutilized Oscar Isaac seems primed to step into Han Solo’s shoes, since he adopts that iconic character’s cocky, wiseguy attitude.

BB-8 and Daisy Ridley - Rey

BB-8 and Daisy Ridley as Rey (Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd.)

But this film’s trump card is the original Han Solo, Harrison Ford. He effortlessly slips back into the role that made him famous and dominates the screen every time he turns up. He is the very personification of a movie star, fully engaged yet still able to toss off a barbed line of dialogue with the greatest of ease. Some of his swagger is tempered by wistfulness after all these years, especially when he sees Leia for the first time.

The actor’s commitment to this character (and our history with him) makes up for a somewhat routine storyline. There are the requisite chase scenes and battles, and an offbeat villain in the person of Adam Driver, but the movie has a Teflon quality to it: nothing much sticks with me except the delight of seeing Ford back in action. I also enjoyed the newest droid on the block, the cute, globular BB-8, and the Yoda-like Maz Kanata (enacted and voiced by Lupita Nyong’o).

Adam Driver - Kylo Ren

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with Stormtroopers. (Photo by: David James..©Lucasfilm 2015, Courtesy of Lucasfilm, Ltd.)

But it’s the underlying mythology that George Lucas created almost forty years ago that propels this new installment, not the visual effects or rejuvenation in the casting. The presence of John Williams’ majestic score is a tangible reminder of what captured the world’s imagination in 1977. Will this Star Wars, with its hints of changes to come, blaze a path for a new generation of fans, or will the momentum of the original carry this reboot to its pre-sold fans around the world? It will be interesting to see as the new saga unfolds.

Incidentally, I saw the movie in 3-D (not in IMAX) and while it was fun I don’t know if it added significantly to my enjoyment of the picture.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024