TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Well, I'm very curious to hear what our film critic David Edelstein has to say about the new "Star Wars" movie, which is about to open. Advanced sales are astronomical. The director and co-writer is not series creator George Lucas, it's J.J. Abrams. But cast members from the original 1977 film, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, appear, joined by newer characters. Here's David's review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: With the opening of the seventh "Star Wars" movie, "The Force Awakens," it's a happy day for fans, and a bittersweet one for George Lucas, creator of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, the Force and a new era in blockbuster filmmaking. Why bittersweet? Well, I once interviewed a young woman at a "Lord Of The Rings" movie marathon who teared up explaining how director Peter Jackson did a great job because he was a fan of Tolkien's books and understood what they meant to other fans - whereas Lucas, in his "Star Wars" prequels, forgot all that. The idea that a sequel done by a fan would be better than one by the creator seems counterintuitive. But it's the subtext of what Lucas recently said - that this was the "Star Wars" movie the fans have been looking for. Largely, that's because its template is very similar to the first film. "The Force Awakens," directed by J.J. Abrams, opens with a backwards title crawl announcing that Luke Skywalker has vanished and a bunch of other stuff. The take-away is the dark side of the force, once the Empire, is now embodied by the First Order, which borrows its rhetoric and architecture from the Third Reich. The resistance, led by General - not Princess - Leia had sent its best pilot, Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, to someone played by Max von Sydow to get a map to Luke's location. Don't ask why - I couldn't tell you. The First Order massacres a bunch of people and captures Poe, who has already hidden the map inside his droid, BB-8 - a rolling ball topped with half another ball with the manner of a yelping puppy. The droid ends up with two young characters - Finn, played by John Boyega, and Rey - spelled R-E-Y - played by Daisy Ridley. Those two are the core of "Star Wars: The Next Generation," and expertly contrived to appeal to millions. Finn was kidnapped and enslaved to fight as a stormtrooper for the First Order, but an attack of conscience made him throw off his white armor and escape. Rey's back story isn't yet known, but she's a scavenger on a desert planet - not unlike Luke. And it's quickly clear she's a budding Jedi. As they run with BB-8 from First-Order troops, Finn keeps trying to save her - but she's the better fighter.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS")
JOHN BOYEGA: (As Finn) We can't outrun them.
DAISY RIDLEY: (As Rey) We might in that quad jumper.
BOYEGA: (As Finn) We need a pilot.
RIDLEY: (As Rey) We've got one.
EDELSTEIN: Many have complained that Lucas's was a boy's universe. But nowadays, princesses fight their own battles, and it makes sense the newest Jedi will be female. Daisy Ridley has pugnacious jawline and a wiry grace, and Boyega is one of those young actors so expressive he wears his heart on his sleeve and his trembling light saber. The third wheel is bad guy Kylo Ren, the junior Darth Vader played by Adam Driver, who's shockingly good when he snatches off his black helmet-mask and throws light saber temper tantrums. Maybe you already know Ren's background, but I'm not saying. The movie is all about merging the old and new plot streams, and audiences will go nuts when the regulars appear. Though his voice is a croak, Harrison Ford slips into the swashbuckling Han Solo role with youthful vigor. And Carrie Fisher's cracked, deepened voice gives Leia new depth. Peter Mayhew's Wookiee Chewbacca has lots of laugh lines - or yowls. There is the joy of rediscovery and the tragedy of loss. Director J.J. Abrams is the opposite of an original. He helped rekindle "Star Trek," aped Spielberg in "Super Eight," and here does a good imitation of Lucas, circa 1977. "The Force Awakens" hits its marks, and with familiar actors, costumes, sound effects and John Williams' lush score, it conjures up many of those old feelings. Audiences will adore it and wait eagerly for the continuing adventures of Rey and Finn and Ren and Poe. I had fun too - but it was fun of seeing something fairly successfully redone, not something fresh and surprising. The movie is so brilliantly unoriginal it's almost mystical.
GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. If you'd like to catch up on recent FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with Jeffrey Tambor, who plays a trans woman on the Amazon series "Transparent," or Cary Fukunaga, who directed season one of "True Detective" and the new Amazon film "Beasts Of No Nation" about child soldiers, or Andrew Haigh, who directed the new film "45 Years" and was the showrunner for the HBO series "Looking," check out our podcast. You'll find those, and lots of other FRESH AIR interviews. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.