The movie doesn't wait long to introduce its new batch of heroes, and they come together in a manner that suggests the Force is still pulling strings behind the scenes. It's easy to argue that Rey is the main hero of the bunch, and newcomer Daisy Ridley shines in the role. A scavenger living on the planet of Jakku, she gets pulled along on a space adventure she had only dreamed of.
John Boyega's Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron both play key roles in the movie and bring humor and swagger to The Force Awakens. Those characters help bring back the witty banter that was weaved throughout the original trilogy, and it's through their eyes that the audience sees the new warring groups of the villainous First Order and the heroic Resistance.
For every new hero, there is a new villain: Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson's General Hux, Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma and Andy Serkis's Supreme Leader Snoke. They're explored to varying degrees, with some like Kylo Ren at the forefront of the plot and others clearly being saved for future Star Wars sequels. To a certain extent, those underdeveloped characters are frustrating; there has been such an intense level of secrecy around these roles for so long that to see some of them get short-changed feels anti-climactic.
Fortunately, the things that work about The Force Awakens really work. Like Ridley as Rey, Driver is spectacular as Kylo Ren. His performance adds great depth to a character who could have come off as one-dimensional, and the implications of his arc leave a viewer with plenty to think about after they leave the theater.
Of course, the real star of the movie is BB-8, the lovable new droid featured so prominently in The Force Awakens' marketing campaign. Not only does he have a key role to play in the film, but he's also just as adorable and clever as the promotion for the movie promises. The ability for him to emote so clearly is incredible, and the fact that he is a practical character makes the accomplishments with BB-8 even more remarkable.
Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher all reprise their roles as Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa, respectively. Solo plays a major role throughout the movie, and Ford's take on a more aged version of the beloved character plays true to what fans know about him. It's a great thrill to see what Han Solo is up to decades after Return of the Jedi, and Ford manages to recapture what makes the character so special. To say anything about Hamill's turn as Luke Skywalker would give away too much. As for Fisher, her appearance as General Leia was met with resounding cheers throughout the theater.
Several decades have passed between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and that is woven throughout the core of the new film. Like one-off lines about previous adventures in the original trilogy inspired fans' minds for generations, so there are introductions of main characters' "old friends" who viewers have never heard of before that continues to blow out the scale of the Star Wars universe.
That is just one way that The Force Awakens is clearly inspired by the beloved Star Wars films that came before, and that's a through-line throughout the entire adventure. Part of that is director J.J. Abrams using a familiar play set from the original trilogy, but structurally The Force Awakens follows a familiar pattern from what came before. On both a macro and micro level, this movie wants to pay its respects to its predecessors, but when the new elements of The Force Awakens are the most engaging, it leaves you excited for the next movie when those shackles to what came before have been removed and the franchise can fully play in this new world.
The Force Awakens asks its audience to come along for the ride as chance encounters bring characters together, and because of that there's a certain whimsy to the movie's journey. While that is a joy when first reentering this world, seeing new planets and meeting new characters, the plot is fairly thin as Abrams seeks to envelope his audience in this world and suggest that fate is what's moving the characters' adventure along. It is thrilling to come along for that ride, but even though The Force Awakens leaves you with an anticipation to find out what comes next, it's also unclear where this new series is heading.
I can not wait to watch the next film!