NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, December 16, 2015, 3:01 AM
Rey (Daisy Ridley) goes neck to sword with Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
The Force is strong in this one.
The Death Star-sized question surrounding the seventh installment of the “Star Wars” franchise has been whether director J.J. Abrams would restore order to this sci-fi galaxy and remove the Binksian stink of three prequels that George Lucas churned out in the 1990s after ensuring his place in movie history with the original series from 1977 to 1983.
And for the most part, Abrams does. It isn’t just the presence of original stars Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill or co-writer Lawrence Kasdan’s dialogue that harkens back to the glory days of “Star Wars,” it’s the whole vibe. This film fits into the franchise’s much-debated canon, and is the best installment since “The Empire Strikes Back,” a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Set 30 years after the events of episode six, “Return of the Jedi,” “The Force Awakens” opens with Luke Skywalker (Hamill) having disappeared. In the Jedi’s absence, an army called The First Order has grown powerful, with its most fearsome warrior Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Darth Vader fanboy, seeking BB-8, an adorable droid that’s holding a map to Skywalker’s potential whereabouts.
Faster than you can say “Help me, Obi-Wan…,” the droid/Happy Meal tie-in, falls in the hands of reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). The pair get some help from Han Solo (Ford) to bring BB-8 to General Leia (Fisher), who is leading the Resistance as always.
Abrams has clearly learned a thing or two about how to navigate a space opera from his two previous missions aboard the Enterprise in his “Star Trek” reboot – but his skills with a lightsaber date back to 1977, when he watched the original “Star Wars” in the theater as a wide-eyed 11-year-old. The original series, far more than the prequels, informs this filmmaker’s approach. There’s not a Jar Jar Binks to be found.
Abrams dutifully checks off all the boxes for a “Star Wars” movie: he has the soaring John Williams score, the adorable chirping droid, otherworldly landscapes, lightsaber battles, intergalactic fortune cookie wisdom (Lupita Nyong’o voices a newfangled Yoda-like character) and spacey Shakespearean themes. It’s just gravy to have Ford, Fisher and Hamill reprise their signature roles from the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
But at times “The Force Awakens” feels too self-referential. The First Order’s first order of business, for example, is to build a Death Star-like battle station. “How do we blow it up?” asks Han Solo, who seems in on the joke. “There’s always a way to blow it up.”
Those comedic chops rub off on Finn and Oscar Isaac’s hotshot X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. “Is this the part where I talk or where you talk?” Poe has the nerve to ask Kylo Ren during an interrogation.
There are other flaws: some characters that held so much promise in the lead up to the film, particularly Gwendoline Christie’s chrome-plated Captain Plasma, are under-developed. And not enough script is spent on explaining the neuroses behind Ren’s epic tantrums.
But those concerns barely have time to register as the movie rockets from action sequence to action sequence at a hyperdrive pace. You would have to be practicing some pretty dark arts to not smile as you watch the iconic Millennium Falcon take off into battle one more time.