Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens

After an unprecedented $934 million(!) domestic box office haul, J.J. Abrams’ franchise reboot looks to set more records on home video.

Fans of “Star Wars” will remember December 18 as the day it finally happened: A new movie, which continues the adventures of Han (Harrison Ford), Luke (Mark Hamill), and Leia (Carrie Fisher), et. al., was released. Unlike the disappointing prequel trilogy, this one, titled “Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens” is pretty good and gets a new trilogy of episodes seven through nine off to a promising start.

All of the favorite “Star Wars” touchstones are back: light sabers, blasters, storm troopers, space ships, and of course, the Force. The classic good versus evil story line is in tact as well, but instead of the Rebellion versus the Empire, we have the Resistance versus the First Order. To borrow a line from the classic song “Who’s Next” by “The Who”: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that this song was played continuously during the development of the script for “The Force Awakens.” As well crafted as the movie is from a visual standpoint, the story mimics a lot of the plot of the original trilogy of episodes four through six. It unabashedly borrows elements from those previous movies to the point where it sometimes feels like “The Force Awakens” is re-playing the greatest hits from those movies, just with a slight new spin on them.

I never thought I’d find myself defending the George Lucas helmed prequel trilogy in any way, but to his credit, he at least came up with an original story. Sure, he repeated elements too—severed hands for example—but his intention, ham-fisted though it was, was to create poetry and have the movies rhyme. There is a difference between rhyming moments between trilogies and full on lifting entire plot lines.

The “Force Awakens” is essentially about a young person living on a desert planet who befriends a droid and is compelled to go to space on an adventure. Sound familiar? If so, then it should be no shock that the evil First Order has a weapon that can destroy an entire planet. I find that aspect especially disappointing. If watched in chronological order as episodes one through seven, three out of the last four movies involve the heroes of the story setting out to destroy the planet obliterating weapon of the villains.

The twist on the young person on the desert planet is that instead of a young man, we now have a young woman. Her name is Rey (Daisy Ridley) and she’s a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku, which might as well be Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tattooine but I guess that would be too on the nose, even for this movie. One of the grandest sights to behold are the downed imperial destroyers and TIE fighters that litter the landscape. Rey survives by spelunking into the wreckage and salvaging what she can. Given the limited resources to be found in these ships, one has to question how long she can survive with that as her only source of income, but she seems to do fine.

Shortly after the release of “The Force Awakens” in December, there were outcries of Rey being a Mary Sue—that is, a young and/or low rank character who comes into an existing canon and is annoyingly perfect and/or saves the day with unrealistic abilities. I see their point: Rey can talk to droids, use a light saber, has an innate ability to use advanced force tactics like mind trick, and flies the Millennium Falcon better than Han Solo. My B.S. detector went off too. However, I’m not quite on board with labeling her a Mary Sue just yet. Reason being is that there are two more movies to go in this trilogy, and I’m willing to give those two movies a chance to explain how she can do all of these amazing things. There is some backstory with her that’s yet to be told. She very well may be a Mary Sue, but I’ll give this trilogy a chance to explain before making a final judgment.

The main villain of “The Force Awakens” and leader of the First Order is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He has strong dark side force powers, wears a mask, talks in a deep voice, and wields a red light saber. He also gets down on one knee to speak with the hologram of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), in a very Vader talking to the Emperor kind of way. That’s the new boss, same as the old boss.

Having said all of that, it’s fun to be in space in the “Star Wars” galaxy again. The movie moves along at a brisk pace with the shootouts, aerial battles, and light saber duels that we all look forward to in these movies. Seeing Han, Luke, Leia, and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) again was like seeing old friends at a reunion. You want to know how they look, where they’ve been, and what they’re doing now. Those questions—and more—are answered, and more importantly, I like the answers I got.

Ultimately, in spite of its flaws, “The Force Awakens” does a brilliant job of recapturing the wonder and magic of the original trilogy. There’s no talk of midi-chlorians or trade disputes. The politics of the galaxy are where they belong: as a back drop in a story about a group of people we come to know and care about, who are on a mission to bring down a destructive authoritarian entity. There are thrills to be sure, but also heartfelt drama and even a few laughs—though my chuckling at how much Finn (John Boyega) in a storm trooper uniform, with the helmet off, in the desert, reminded me of the “We ain’t found shit!” scene from “Spaceballs” is I am sure unintentional. Still funny though.

“The Force Awakens” isn’t the best “Star Wars” movie, but it certainly isn’t the worst either. But in spite of what’s wrong with it, it’s still pretty darn good. The movie stands pretty well on its own, and offers a promising start for the new movies to come. Buy it on Amazon: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Plus Bonus Features).

More New Releases: “The Hallow,” about a family in Ireland battling creatures in the woods; “# Horror,” about a night of cyber-bullying and insanity amongst a group of twelve year old girls; and “Countdown,” WWE-produced actioner starring Kane and Dolph Ziggler.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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