4 stars 

What an entertaining week it's been. Call it Star Wars: The Force Awakens Anticipation Week. It's like a bonus holiday week has been placed smack in the middle of the holiday season. So many folks speculating about the movie, bragging about the tickets they snagged for a 3 AM screening on opening night, explaining how they're avoiding spoilers, etc. Sick of hearing about Star Wars? Look at it from a different perspective: This week people all over the planet are having a shared experience that isn't tragic.

I saw the film at 1 AM on opening night at the IMAX Theater at the Indiana State Museum. When the audience exited the theater around 3:30, the crowd for the 4 AM show was lining up. Amazing.

Now about the actual movie …

I had fun. No surprise, really. Director J.J. Abrams and his filmmaking team know the series as well as we do, including the troubled prequels. The film is fully in the spirit of the original trilogy. The storyline, which I will not describe, is reminiscent of both the original movie (A New Hope) and The Empire Strikes Back. So many scenes are similar to ones from those films that it can be argued that the new film is as much a remake as it is a sequel.

What that means is that we get a new cute droid, a new trio of adventurers (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac, good actors all), new bad guys (including scary Adam Driver), a different desert planet, another alien-packed bar, more spaceship battles and lightsaber duels, plus more family squabbles blown up to epic size. The scene parallels are so blatant that the characters make jokes about them.

Actually, just one character – Han Solo – does the joking, and that's because he was there the first time around. As much as I enjoy the new cast, watching Harrison Ford be Han Solo is the film's biggest treat. Ford is clearly enjoying making a ridiculous amount of money to play the character again. Solo is less surly than when we met him a few decades ago, but he's still cool; whether barking orders, offering advice or exaggerating tales of his exploits from back in the day.

Solo is not the only returning vet, of course. Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and some well-known alien resistance figures pop up. Carrie Fisher reprises her role as Leia Organa, enjoying some rewarding exchanges with Solo, and Mark Hamill appears as Luke Skywalker. I can say no more about him than that. You'll see what I mean.

I didn't mind the many nods to the original two movies – at least they nick story points from the right ones. I did get tired of the relentless pacing. At times it felt like we were in this great space museum with a tour director constantly urging us to “keep moving, moving, moving” when what I wanted to do was slow down and explore things a little more closely.

There will be time for that later, I hope. With Star Wars: The Force Awakens under their belts, perhaps the powers that be will take us to some less-traveled places in the next two films of the trilogy.

One spoiler before I wrap this up: Jar Jar Binks does not appear in the movie. Happy Star Wars: The Force Awakens Anticipation Week, everybody!


Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.