Star-Wars-The-Force-Awakens-Han-Solo-ChewbaccaBy Ashley Pauls/Box Office Buzz

The wait is finally over and the good news is, Star Wars fans, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. “The Force Awakens” captures the epic grandeur of the original trilogy while also ushering in an exciting new era of Star Wars storytelling. It’s a thrilling and moving cinematic experience, and it’s the perfect continuation of the beloved science fiction saga that started almost 40 years ago.

I’m not sure where to even begin this review, really, because in many ways I’m still basking in the afterglow of the experience. I probably should have apologized in advance for gushing, because I’ve been kind of like a little kid at Christmas, bouncing up and down with excitement. 😉 While going to see a movie with other excited fans on opening night is always fun, this was an extra special experience for me. Those who know me well know how much I love Star Wars. It’s my favorite film franchise, and “The Empire Strikes Back” has been my all-time favorite film for many years. “The Force Awakens” was my first chance to see a Star Wars film on opening night, and I was really hoping it would live up to the hype. It did.

By the time I watched the original trilogy, I knew all the major spoilers (i.e. Yoda is a Jedi Master, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, etc.), and there wasn’t as much plot mystery in the prequels, since we all knew Anakin Skywalker was heading to the dark side. However, I didn’t have a single clue what was going to happen in “The Force Awakens,” and that was thrilling. Don’t let anyone spoil this movie for you; a huge part of the experience is just going along for the ride, not sure where the journey will take you.

J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite directors, and he didn’t disappoint me here. I think this clearly was a labor of love for him, and I’m also extremely grateful he was able to convince the actors from the original trilogy to come back. While there are plenty of great new characters in this film, I don’t think this movie would have worked without Han, Leia, Luke, and Chewbacca to pass the baton on to the next generation. There were several rounds of applause in the theater when these classic characters showed up on screen.

This film looks and feels like a direct continuation of the original trilogy, and fans will appreciate the use of practical effects/locations. We get to see a variety of new worlds in the Star Wars universe: a desert planet, a snowy planet, a forest planet, and more. We have some intriguing new villains and some fun new heroes (if you already pre-purchased a bunch of merchandise for the new droid BB-8, you won’t be disappointed). 😉 If you haven’t seen the movie yet, go buy a ticket.

***SPOILER WARNING — skip the next five paragraphs!***

At first I was disappointed when Disney announced they would no longer consider the Expanded Universe novels as canon. There are some great characters in the novels, and I was a little sad we’d probably never get to see them onscreen. However, I think Disney ultimately made the right decision, because it would be hard to directly follow the plots of the books and capture all that backstory, and I enjoyed the suspense of not knowing what was going to happen in the movie.

That said, I did appreciate the film’s nods to the Expanded Universe. The movie’s big weapon is a reference to the planet-sized cannon featured in the books that has the power to destroy solar systems. And the mysterious Kylo Ren is revealed to be Han and Leia’s son named Ben; in the books, Han and Leia do have a son that goes to the dark side. Ben is actually the name of Luke’s son in the books, who doesn’t go to the dark side, but I really appreciated the use of this name, since Ben is my favorite EU character.

The revelation of Kylo Ren’s parentage sets up one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the movie. (This is a final warning — if you don’t want major spoilers, please stop now!) Han confronts his son with one last plea to turn away from the dark side, and Ren responds by murdering his father. It’s heartbreaking to lose one of the best-loved Star Wars characters, but I respected J.J. Abrams’ willingness to do this. It gives the film dramatic weight, and mirrors Obi-Wan’s sacrificial confrontation with his former apprentice Darth Vader in “A New Hope.”

I really loved the new characters, and I’m excited to see where they go. I liked the story arc for ex-Stormtrooper Finn. He doesn’t start the movie as a hero; he’s just a man on the run, mostly looking out for himself. But he does become a hero by the end, risking his own life to save Rey and doing a pretty darn good job holding his own with a lightsaber, considering he doesn’t have Force powers. Oscar Isaac also is good as a hot-shot Resistance pilot; we’ll need his type of character now that Han Solo, sadly, is no longer around.

Another great new character is Rey, who begins to discover her Force powers in this film. I’m sure fans will now be busy speculating who Rey really is and why she was abandoned by her family. My biggest “goosebump” moment was during the Rey/Ren lightsaber fight, and Ren’s reaching for the lightsaber that dropped in the snow. It soars through the air but breezes right past him, snapping into Rey’s hand instead. I once thought Rey was Ren’s sister, but now I think she might actually be Luke’s daughter. I also loved how they kept up the sense of mystery, and we don’t get to see Luke until the very end.

***END SPOILERS***

Honestly, I could probably keep going on and on, but I’ve got to end this review at some point. 😉 Judging by the applause in the theater after this movie ended, I think fans overall are very pleased with this one. The one criticism I’ve been hearing about the film is that some believe the movie played it just a little too “safe” and didn’t veer far enough from the original trilogy. However, I felt the balance of old and new was just right. You need a sense of familiarity to reassure fans that this new franchise is heading in a good direction; in the follow-up movies, directors will be free to head into more uncharted waters. I loved “The Force Awakens,” and I’m already looking forward to watching this one again.