*** out of ****
The seventh Star Wars movie is entertaining but it's no classic. The prequels, which I do enjoy, didn't live up to the original trilogy and neither does this one. For me, it just doesn't quite have that complete sense of wonder and joy that Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi have.
Anyway, in Episode VII: The Force Awakens it is 30 years later and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared. During his absence The First Order and its prime disciple, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), threaten to give rise to the dark side once again. The galaxy's only hope is a renegade Stormtrooper, Finn (John Boyega), scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) ace pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) and a beach ball of a droid named BB-8. However, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and the Millennium Falcon show up to advance the plot.
The Force Awakens gets off to a good start and Ford doesn't miss a beat in the role that made him a household name, but the middle of the film sags a little and the character of Poe isn't well defined. It doesn't help that Poe vanishes for a long stretch of running time.
Director J.J. Abrams plays the nostalgia card for the 1977 Star Wars. Sometimes it's pleasant (Seeing Han, Chewie and the Falcon for the first time here is a real thrill) but other times it's laid on too thick (The opening assault and a bar/cantina sequence mirror the first movie too closely).
Still, the emotional core is there and Ridley's intense performance as the emerging heroine is absolutely terrific – and she's a bad-ass with a lightsaber. John Williams' awesome musical score still soars. And that final scene does shake your soul and really gets you excited for the next installment.