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'Star Wars: The Force Awakens': A Force to Be Reckoned With
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
12:15PM / Thursday, December 24, 2015
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The latest heroes in the fight against the Dark Side - Rey and Finn - race into a new chapter in Star Wars history.

Oddly, while I enjoyed director J.J. Abrams' "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the seventh in the franchise created by George Lucas, and was gratified to check it off on my dance card, I feel a little bit like the kid who dared blurt that the Emperor was naked. Sure, it's a good adventure yarn, a synergy of nostalgic notes and cutting edge notions.

But unless it still has to kick in, I've experienced no transformative epiphany. No glow emanates from me. I'm not speaking in tongues. What's more, though the nearby lake beckons, I'm confident I cannot walk its surface.

Yeah, yeah, I know ... it cost 18 trillion dollars and there are more "Star Wars" commercial tie-ins than you can shake a light saber at, from automobile companies to mac 'n' cheese. It is popular culture at its zenith, the tacit religion of the year, something to believe in that inspires dreamy hope and only friendly argument among its adherents. And by Jove, it's a commodity we can export to China. OK, they'll still make all the related toys. Can't win 'em all. But to simply refer to it as a movie is like saying that Woodstock was a rock concert.

Nope, "Double Indemnity" (1944) was a movie, and so were the first few "Star Wars" films, before Madison Avenue learned The Force could be sold ad nauseam. No blame placed here. It's how it's always been: a belief system to be adulated, seriously or just out of esteem, usually represented by a fellow human, like Babe Ruth, Lindbergh or Franklin D. But whether there has of late been a dearth of carbon-based lifeforms worth venerating or we've just become cynical, it could be that propping up something of our own making offers less chance of disappointment.

Granted, almost all of literature's so called fake worlds, from J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of The Rings" to Lucas' high-tech metaphor for our civilization, are ripe with heroes, antiheroes and villains. Only now, the cinema sorcerers and their able apprentices, like Abrams, armed with the greatest movie magic to date, make this latest permutation of our revolving mythology almost as real as it is fictional. Its bigness defies rational assessment.

In short, we Earthlings couldn't be picked to a jury deciding the filmic value of this latest offering. Only denizens of some galaxy far, far away could be objective about "The Force Awakens." Doubtlessly, scholarly aficionados, feverish with the diligence of Medieval monks preserving knowledge and lore, are this minute filling reams of cyberspace in their analytical comparisons, right down to the most esoteric, fanatic-tickling minutiae. Don't look for that here.

If I could understand just half of it, I might have passed organic chemistry.

To true believers, I am beside the point. Fact is, and I run the risk here of being run out of the universe on a jet-propelled rail, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is more phenomenon than phenomenal. Still, assuming one could reasonably separate the story itself from the hyper-hype, I will venture it is solidly written, smartly acted and stitched together with a painstaking expertise that knows any misstep could cause an intergalactic incident. To achieve any less would be deemed heresy.

But while zealots will parse its trivia with the trancelike rapture of a hungry wampa gorging on his kill, those whose knowledge of things "Star Wars" doesn't extend beyond its signature phrases, "May the force be with you" and "Luke, I am your father," might nonetheless enjoy the experience. It's rather splendid, a panoply of great special effects and engaging curiosities, like a revisit to that multicultural, outer space saloon. I'll have something purple, please.

Furthermore, just to ease any trepidations newbies may have, be assured that even ucas' appointed sci-fi heirs haven't added a plot to the seven basic themes that've comprised storytelling since before Homer. So this is once again a saga of good and evil, with some gray uncertainties tossed in to please modern skepticism.

Leading the charge against the Nazi-like First Order, which replaces the Nazi-like Galactic Empire, are a gaggle of likeable worthies ostensibly led by the winsome but brave Rey, a mere scavenger played by Daisy Ridley.

Aligning with this heretofore common gal tossed into uncommon circumstances is Oscar Isaac as pilot extraordinaire, Poe, and Finn (John Boyega), an unwillingly conscripted Stormtrooper looking to be a good guy. But leading a mini-parade of "Star Wars" legends who give the derring-do an old home week feel is the swaggering, reticent hero, Han Solo. Winningly reprised by Harrison Ford, he humanizes the grandiosity. Hence, while sure to please diehard disciples, the sheer ubiquity of "The Force" may even awaken an interest among unenlightened infidels.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens," rated PG-13, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by J.J. Abrams and stars Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Running time: 135 minutes

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