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MRQE Top Critic

Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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A mixture of new and old faces help director J.J. Abrams relaunch the Star Wars series, now part of the Disney empire. Those who feared that Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens wouldn’t honor George Lucas’ long-running achievement needn’t fret: Abrams has created a transitional movie that contains a mostly winning mix of Star Wars nostalgia and new additions.

Truth be told, the series may be better off now that Lucas has handed the reins to someone else. Abrams, who also helped revive the Star Trek franchise, easily surpasses the last three films: The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).

Finn (left) and Rey learn about the Force
Finn (left) and Rey learn about the Force

Abrams took no chances when it comes to filling the movie with actors who serve as reassurance that Disney plans to respect the Lucas legacy.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is not that Harrison Ford returns as Han Solo, but that he’s actually in a substantial amount of the movie — along with his old pal Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

Ford’s appearance — as well as that of Carie Fisher, C-3P0 and R2-D2 — helps launch the cast that presumably will carry the series forward, namely Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, a feisty young woman who rises from the role of space scavenger to helping to save the galaxy from the First Order.

In case you haven’t been reading the advance stories, The First Order is the evil organization that has taken over where the Empire left off.

Ridley’s Rey, who lives on the planet Jakku, is joined in her efforts by Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who defects from the First Order.

Finn has no interest in being an enforcer for the Dark Side, represented here by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).

Driver’s Ren gets the most screen time: He wears a mask and speaks in a Darth Vaderesque voice, although he’s not quite as imposing as his predecessor.

Oscar Isaac turns up as another newbie; he plays Poe Dameron, a gung-ho pilot for the Resistance.

Without making too much of a fuss about it, Abrams introduces a variety of new creatures and a new droid, a rolly-polly creation known as BB-8 that struck me as something of a lovable high-tech beach ball.

The movie’s meager plot involves a search for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Luke must be found because he’s the last remaining Jedi, the only person capable of ensuring that the Force is passed to a new generation.

Did I care about the plot? Not really. And although the movie’s screenwriting team (Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams and Michael Arndt) adds plenty of winking humor, it may be less about generating laughs than serving as a welcome reminder that the original movies weren’t ordeals: They were fun.

There’s even a scene that pays homage to Lucas’ penchant for taking us to bars where aliens hang-out with Lupita Nyong’o giving voice to Maz Kanata, a space pirate whose eyes are covered with goggles and who dispenses a bit of wisdom — or what passes for it in a Star Wars movie.

Of course, composer John Williams returns to score his seventh Star Wars film.

Despite the presence of the kind of father/son elements that informed the better Star Wars movies, we probably should consider it a positive development that a young woman has a major role here and likely will continue to have one as the series progresses.

Who knows? Given enough time, Rey may even give Katniss Everdeen a run for her money.