(This review written by a critic that's been a longtime Star Wars fan and contains no spoilers.)
What is it with every generation of fathers?
Luke Skywalker has disappeared, but moviegoers can gladly put in an appearance at the cinema for two hours and 16 minutes to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a visceral, moving tour de Force that’s definitively the best in the entire saga after The Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope.
As for Luke, don't worry - he shows up. Eventually.
Anyone in love with George Lucas' sprawling galaxy far, far away and even newcomers or those less familiar with the Force will find a visual delight and their emotions tested in the dark side of the cinema in the next, very well executed chapter of the franchise taken over by director JJ Abrams.
To those who fell in love when Luke Skywalker first started at the horizon where twin suns were setting to a rousing score, feel that The Empire Strikes Back is the best in the series and for those who abhor the sequel-prequel trilogy – The Force Awakens is definitely the movie and further continuation of Star Wars you've been looking for.
As Episode VII, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an emotional unveiling of a next chapter in a story that solidly remains at heart a tale about trying to close the gap, and bridging the distance – literally and figuratively – between fathers and their children.
As if it hadn’t become transparent over the past three decades, Star Wars’ latest iteration as a modern myth makes it abundantly clear that it’s become the most classic cinematic Bildungroman of all: Star Wars The Force Awakens again restarts the youth’s search for meaning, purpose, and parentage – and this time it’s also the inverse: the parent’s search for child.
The Force Awakens is a visually authentic, nostalgically sound and forward-Force-facing addition to the Star Wars universe – an Oedipus opus that’s the new first act of a new saga, referencing back but laying the solid groundwork for new characters, character development, plot points and yes, a spectacular new war amidst the stars.
History repeats itself but this time in an opposite way. Absent fathers and father figures still fail their children (sons and daughters), but children also fail (and save!) their parents in the film that feels expansive and harkens back to the timeless and massive size and scope of the original Star Wars trilogy.
With a lot of death, destruction, deterioration and some big shockers – there’s at least one climactic, tragic scene between a father and son that rivals and deftly mirror’s the now iconic ‘Luke, I am your father” – the movie is definitely not meant to be seen by anyone under 12.
While previously Star Wars spurred endless debate like "Did Han shoot first?", The Force Awakens will have moviegoers long be talking and definitely debating things like seeing Han Solo again and the new Death Star.
Some dramatic plot points are foreshadowed and can be guessed and figured out fairly quickly within half an hour by real Star Wars fans due to framing and exposition limiting some of the surprise but it doesn’t in any way take away or diminish from the sheer enjoyment and emotional gut punches that’s delivered when ancestry is revealed and when a major death changes the ongoing expanding Star Wars universe forever.
Right up to the end – and literally in the final scene – The Force Awakens continues to be the unfolding of a new journey and to be the passing of the baton to a new Star Wars generation.
A beautiful inverse
While the new film is a new start – an expansion of the established mythos – it incorporates the cleverest of of Jedi minds tricks: a fully and very calculated, inverted story.
Beneath the surface basically every single thing is not just symbolic but also the beautiful inverse of what Star Wars fans saw previously – from camera angles, characters, scenes and a lot of dialogue.
To appreciate the magnitude of some of the moments and events happening you really do need to see A New Hope, Empire and Return of the Jedi first to fully revel in what JJ Abrams and Disney taking over Lucasfilm have very successfully been able to accomplish.
Yet even for casual moviegoers not steeped in Jedi tradition or Wookiee lore this “space movie” will be an enjoyable holiday film fantasy romp through the stars.
While The Force Awakens is filled with dense narrative techniques and very clever mirroring of the work that came before it that can keep film critics and academics busy disecting it for weeks, it’s not flawless but won’t matter if enjoyed on a purely superficial level – as million of people around the world surely will.
The acting Force is definitely with the new stars. You easily lose yourself in the standout and emotive portrayal of Daisy Ridley as Rey. John Boyega as Finn and then the antropomorphic droid, BB-8, are wonderful and dear old Chewie – still actually young for a Wookie – will have you laughing out loud together with moviegoers.
The somewhat disappointing Adam Driver as the new dark nemesis Kylo Ren is however no Darth Vader (one character somewhat ironically remarks that “Your biggest fear is that you will never be Darth Vader”) and will possibly develop as the trilogy rolls out.
Star Wars will still be and is the definitive movie series dads take their sons to. Now they – and mothers – can take their daughters too.