One does not simply reboot Star Wars.
Sorry, wrong franchise. But for real, though. If there's one thing we know about Star Wars fans, it's that they're as resistant to change as any religious zealot, even when it's coming from their bearded, bullfrog-necked god himself. You couldn't change the damn credits font without risking a message-board lynching. And so, the best thing that can be said about The Force Awakens—J.J. Abrams' first crack at repairing the damage done by the useless prequels and the revisionist tinkering of Our Father Who Shall Not Be Named—is that it's classicist in the way of a well-executed neo-soul record, crackling with familiarity without bowing to the altar of history.
In form, it's almost old-fashioned. There's no Dark Knight-style brooding, no ring-a-ding-ding dialogue a la The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy. The action is fairly nonstop, but not shot up with meth and Red Bull like Mad Max: Fury Road. Unlike the Jar-Jar Years, which bogged down in intergalactic bureaucracy, the story here is pretty simple: Some guys in helmets are threatening peace in the galaxy, and it's up to, well, you-know-who to stop them. It's broad and sometimes corny, and hardly a line is spoken that isn't expository. In other words, it's friggin' Star Wars, dude.
But while Abrams embraces tradition, the better news is that he's not in awe of it. Yes, the line "Chewie, we're home" will cause 30-somethings to clutch their limited-edition wookiee action figures to their chest, but the nostalgia filters to the film's edges. This is the first installment of a new trilogy, which means developing new heroes and villains for a generation that doesn't know Dooku from Lando. John Boyega excels as Finn, the Bowe Bergdahl of Stormtroopers, as does Daisy Ridley, playing a desert-planet scavenger who…well, better not to go into more detail than that. As Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren, Adam Driver spends the movie speaking through a fast-food microphone, yet conveys more conflicted emotion than all the sentient planks of wood that starred in Episodes I through III combined. By the end, none is yet fully formed—with the exception of the droid BB8, the illegitimate son of WALL-E and a yoga ball—but again, this is only the beginning.
And that's mostly the feeling you'll have leaving the theater—that all you've really seen is the first third of a series that's going to take the next half-decade to climax. All you can ask of Abrams is that he leave you in anticipation. It'd be difficult for even the most hardcore Star Wars evangelical to argue that he hasn't.
Critic's Grade: A-
SEE it: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is rated PG-13. It opens Friday at most Portland-area theaters.