ForceAwakenscoverGrade: A-
Entire family: No
2015, 135 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Bonus Disc, Digital HD
Amazon link

These are exciting times for Star Wars fans, who can be forgiven if they start to think of the seventh film in the series as Star Wars: The Franchise Awakens. In effect, Disney has launched Star Wars 3.0, a glorious reboot that’s the first of six films planned for release over the next five years: three stand-alone spin-offs and a trilogy begun by The Force Awakens, according to Business Insider.

Never mind that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the highest grossing film of 2015. The exciting part is that with this film, a trio of writers led by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark) put the fun and fast-paced serial adventure back into Luke Skywalker’s galaxy, and, just as importantly they give us new characters that we care about. Under the capable direction of J.J. Abrams (Lost), The Force Awakens also combines the best of both worlds. Fans get the slick technical wizardry of Revenge of the Siths and the otherwise ho-hum Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, combined with the lighter tone and occasional humor that made A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi so much fun. It’s fun, too, seeing Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher reprise their roles as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia—even if, as Hamill joked, he’s onscreen for less time than Finn drinking with a hippo.

ForceAwakensscreen1Some might say it’s just a little too tidy having offspring of those beloved characters turning up as “players” in this new struggle of resistance fighters trying to stop the First Order, as the imperialists are now called, but there are plenty of instances in real life where children of politicians also become main figures on the world stage. Fruit doesn’t far fall from the tree, and that probably goes double for people with Jedi blood.

The Force Awakens recycles elements from the main storyline of A New Hope, the film that introduced Star Wars in 1977. The emperor may be long gone, but a new one who speaks via hologram has taken his place. Each film begins with someone on an arid, isolated planet finding a droid that has been given an important piece of information. In the case of The Force Awakens, a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is all alone in the world comes across a BB-8 that’s even more endearing than R2-D2. She meets her own version of a bad boy/antihero (a stormtrooper defector named Finn played by John Boyega) and the two of them seem destined to create movie magic together.

Four main characters are introduced—six, if you count a diminutive goggle-eyed Yoda substitute voiced by Lupita Nyong’o and that cute new BB-8—and while Oscar Isaac is engaging enough as resistance pilot ForceAwakensscreen2Poe Dameron, he doesn’t have the same on-screen presence as Ridley and Boyega, or maybe isn’t able to insert enough of his own personality into the role to make him memorable. The costume design took me a bit by surprise, as Disney tried for a Darth Vader update with Adam Driver playing the simpering Kylo Ren wearing a mask that looks a cross between Vader and something Hannibal Lector would wear, and the new stormtrooper helmets flatten out at the bottom so that they look a little like the goalie mask on the old Annaheim Ducks uniforms. But the production design is slick while still appearing realistic and not 100 percent CGI-looking, the way so much of Menace or Clones did. That’s just how far CGI special effects have come.

What makes Star Wars: The Force Awakens a winner is that those state-of-the-art CGI effects accompany a return to old-fashioned storytelling and the lighthearted tone of the serial-inspired original films. That combination guarantees The Force Awakens will get plenty of repeat play. It’s a great popcorn movie that announces this series is back on track again. And does it look phenomenal in Blu-ray! A disc of bonus features is included, and while the deleted scenes aren’t as tantalizing as fans might expect, a full-length documentary is satisfying and there are plenty of excellent shorter features as well. Shop around if you want to add this title. Best Buy, Target, and Walmart all have exclusive releases. This is the general release, available through Amazon and other outlets.

Language: Two “hells” and one “damn” is pretty tame.
Sex: n/a
Violence: This film’s PG-13 rating comes solely because of sci-fi violence. Lots of blasters, lots of explosions, and lots of characters being killed . . . or in the case of an opening sequence, murdered. An attack by multiple-tentacle creatures can be pretty intense for younger children, but the film’s most haunting moment of violence comes when a stormtrooper is shot and as he dies he leaves his bloody handprint on another trooper. It’s so we can identify which trooper to watch, but still….
Adult situations: Some background characters smoke and drink in the cantina, but nothing more.
Takeaways: The Force is back . . . in force! And with new characters, Disney and LucasFilm are well positioned to finish this new trilogy as impressively as they began it.