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The Force is strong with this one

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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' lives up to the hype

Ordinarily, I don't really care about spoilers much. I make a perfunctory effort to dodge them, but I occasionally get dinged. No big deal in the grand scheme of things.

For the new 'Star Wars' movie, it was a different story.

In the lead-up to 'The Force Awakens,' I was on guard against any loose-lipped acquaintances across social media. But as someone who spends a fair amount of time online, it wasn't so easy to avoid 'Star Wars' a lot of people had a lot of movie-related things they wanted to talk about. And now that I have seen it (having managed to get in clean), I too have a lot of movie-related things that I would like to talk about because it's my job - but I feel obligated to tread lightly.

So how does one go about reviewing 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'? Very carefully.

It is 30 years after the events of 'Jedi.' Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, 'Ex Machina') is tasked with tracking down and retrieving what is alleged to be a map to the location of the long-missing Luke Skywalker. Rey (Daisy Ridley, 'Scrawl') is a scavenger living on the desert planet of Jakku. Finn (John Boyega, 'Imperial Dreams') a Stormtrooper for the sinister First Order can't commit the heinous deeds with which he is tasked, and so abandons the only life he has ever known.

A lot of people are looking for that map. There's Resistance leader Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who sent Dameron on the mission in the first place. But there's also Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, 'This Is Where I Leave You'), a former Jedi apprentice who has gone over to the dark side and is working with the First Order to crush the resistance.

Rey, Finn and Poe are swept into the grandiose world of galactic conflict as each of them must find ways to protect themselves and thwart the genocidal plans of the First Order. And of course, they pick up Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) along the way.

(Oh, and there's a planet-sized superweapon capable of destroying an entire system.)

That's it. I'm done. No more synopsis; the less you know going in, the better. As it is, I already have guilt regarding what I've divulged thus far I just hope I haven't said too much.

Let's not kid around I was in the bag for this film from minute one. I have an almost-literal lifelong affection for 'Star Wars.' The very first movie I have memories of seeing was 'The Empire Strikes Back.' I got actual goosebumps when the John Williams kicked in and I saw 'Episode VII' on the crawl.

Suffice it to say, we have a history, 'Star Wars' and I.

Which is why I'm so impressed with what JJ Abrams has managed to do with 'The Force Awakens.' In structure and tone, the film is far more Original Trilogy than Prequel - bringing in 'Star Wars' veteran writer Lawrence Kasdan only strengthened that connection and that's a good thing. This movie has much of the same lived-in quality and broad sense of adventure that made the original films resonate; the director's love of the material is obvious throughout, and it's that fanboy quality that will likely speak to the hardcore fans.

Simply put it FEELS like a 'Star Wars' movie. Far more than any of the prequels ever did, 'The Force Awakens' captures the spirit of the series. We all knew that was the ultimate goal of Abrams and company, but it's hard to imagine a more successful effort. Moving forward while still embracing the past is hard particularly with something as beloved as 'Star Wars' but 'The Force Awakens' does exactly that.

The performances certainly help. The new blood turns in solid performances across the board. Isaac is a phenomenal talent and gives good hero. Ridley does justice to one of the strongest female characters this franchise has ever seen. Driver's initial casting was a surprise, but he imbues Kylo Ren with an intriguing energy and powerful presence. However, the highlight of the new players has got to be Boyega, whose portrayal of the flawed and funny Finn matches up nicely with a character that has the potential to be the most nuanced and complex that the franchise has ever seen.

As for the holdovers, wellit was great to see them. Ford's Han Solo is weathered by age and hard living, yet still possessed of the roguish charm that drew us to him in the first place. It's precisely the performance we wanted from him, one that was honest about the passage of time yet still rooted in the power of the past. As for Fisher, she didn't have quite as much to do, but she still gave us a look at a woman who has embraced the responsibilities of her position even to the detriment of the rest of her life.

(There's plenty more to say, but I can't in good conscience say it.)

Make no mistake, this isn't a perfect movie. It has its flaws flaws that will likely be hashed out during the inevitable (but likely minor) backlash. And that's fine. Most of us weren't asking for perfect; 'The Phantom Menace' permanently cured us of setting those kinds of expectations. There are those who might bemoan the sense of familiarity, but for many, that familiarity was precisely what we wanted.

George Lucas tried to reinvent the wheel with the prequels, but Abrams perhaps because he held the franchise in such high regard largely avoided that trap. He gave us a familiar journey with new heroes, a chance to return to a place that still shines in our memories.

'The Force Awakens' isn't perfect it was never going to be - but for a fan like me? It was just right.

[5 out of 5]

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