‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ will win fans back

(This review is 100 percent spoiler free.)

Years of hype and anticipation are finally over for film fans all over the world as the new “Star Wars” installment, “The Force Awakens” opens in theaters this week. So, does it live up to expectations?

starwars1Thankfully, the answer is a resounding “yes.” “The Force Awakens” is everything fans have been missing, especially after the three misguided prequel films. Director J.J. Abrams recaptures the soul of the original trilogy in a way that fans will appreciate, but while that level of fan service is one of the key positive aspects of the film, it also flirts with being one of the film’s major problems.

“The Force Awakens” is essentially a reboot of Episode IV, “A New Hope.” Many of the story aspects are exactly the same, except this time with fresh faces. You know how in other film reboots the original actors make a cameo as a little wink and a nod to the audience? “The Force Awakens” takes that concept to the next level, utilizing the original characters so that they play key roles in the plot instead of just making appearances for the sake of nostalgia.

starwars2Speaking of fresh faces, the new cast is very likable and all stars in the making. Daisy Ridley makes her film debut as Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet who is waiting for her family to return. It’s amazing to realize that this is Ridley’s first film because she displays true star quality and will no doubt make waves in cinema for years to come. John Boyega plays Finn, an ex-stormtrooper who joins the Resistance movement. I loved Boyega in “Attack the Block,” and it’s great to see him follow that small indie film with a huge blockbuster.

Ridley and Boyega are up to the task of taking the franchise forward for a new generation and effectively add drama, humor, fear and intensity. And do I even have to mention BB-8? That rotund little droid is the cutest thing ever. If I did have to nitpick one aspect of the cast, I didn’t really buy Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. His hipster look and demeanor made it really difficult to believe him as the baddie of the film.

Abrams does a great job of delivering a “Star Wars” film for the millennial generation. The melodramatic space opera aspects are still prominent, but he also mixes in lots of humor, adding a welcome dimension to the film that we’ve never seen before. The action scenes are also executed well, with the choreography and camerawork placing you right in the middle of the action with a great use of practical effects as opposed to the CGI barf fest of the prequels. And I loved how he introduced some very familiar aspects and faces of “Star Wars” lore.

starwars3But I do hope that the future installments cut back on the nostalgia. “The Force Awakens” wisely gave lots of fan service, as its goal obviously was to recapture the magic of the original films. It was a smart move to get people in seats and credit goes to Abrams for not making any of the nostalgic elements feel forced. But the franchise now must establish its identity and stand on its own. A solid foundation has been established, and I truly hope we can follow Finn, Rey and others in their own stories instead of returning to familiarity. If the opening shot of Episode VIII is on an icy planet, I’ll definitely be disappointed.

But for now, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is everything fans have longed for. Memorable characters, an easy to follow plot (no federations, politics and negotiations!), terrific action and the familiar “Star Wars” lore are all checked off, and I had an awesome time with the film.