J.J. ABRAMS owes his career to Steven Spielberg, with each of his films chasing that sense of awe and wonderment Spielberg consistently evoked in the '80s. Abrams' own films (franchise rehab attempts, mostly, like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible) have all built to this—a chance to right one of the biggest missed opportunities of that decade. Spielberg never made a Star Wars film, but with Abrams at the helm, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is as close as we're gonna get to that Spielberg in this toy box.
Thanks to cultural osmosis and frequent abuse of the monomyth, this toy box is a very familiar one, even if you've never seen a star war. And if you have, the familiarity crystallizes: The Force Awakens starts like Star Wars, has a middle like Empire Strikes Back, and ends like Return of the Jedi. It's a best-of Star Wars mixtape mashed up with Spielberg's greatest hits album.
But one doesn't go to the seventh chapter in the most-watched series of all time seeking originality. It's not a question of whether there's a lot of new here (although this is easily the prettiest, most kinetic film in the series), it's a question of whether Abrams can do justice to one of cinema's best-loved pop songs.
Thanks to stars Daisy Ridley (who plays reluctant hero Rey) and John Boyega (who, as former stormtrooper Finn, is the thumping, anxious heart of this film), and the best work from Harrison Ford in decades, Abrams hits the notes he needs to, clearly and strongly. While The Force Awakens doesn't pack the emotional punch of 2009's Star Trek (that movie is slightly better, both as a film and a series jumpstart), Abrams knocks the dust out of Star Wars' engines. By breathing life into the best of the series' past, he points it toward a hopeful future.