Hardcore fans of the “Star Wars” series – and there are legions of them – have had their tickets for weeks, and have been craving this seventh chapter in the story of the ongoing battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side for years. If there’s such thing as casual “Star Wars” fans, they, too, will be seeing the new one very soon. No one’s going to care what any critics say.
Confession: Back in 1977, this science-fiction fan/critic was disappointed by the initial entry, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.” I felt it was merely a cowboys and Indians movie set in space. The only one I enjoyed was the first sequel, “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.” To me, the others, including all three prequels, were plodding affairs, filled with convoluted, overwritten plots, and just too many characters to keep track of.
Thank goodness series creator George Lucas passed the baton to director J.J. Abrams this time around. “The Force Awakens” doesn’t go into any major new territory; it’s a “Star Wars” film through and through. But it’s got the zip and pizzazz that’s been in short supply since that second film.
So let’s get to it, starting with what’s revealed in the opening scroll of words: The heroic Luke Skywalker, who is the last living Jedi, has gone into hiding. The First Order, the newest group of intergalactic bad guys, wants Luke’s head on a platter. Princess Leia, who heads the Resistance (you can call her General now), is searching for her brother ... you know, Luke.
The story takes place about 30 years after this film’s direct prequel, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” (which hit screens just over 32 years ago). Things take off quickly. White-suited stormtroopers attack the planet Jakku; a little beach ball-like droid called BB-8 is called upon by Poe (Oscar Isaac), the “best pilot in the Resistance,” to hide a map that will lead to Luke Skywalker; a scrappy young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) stumbles upon and (sort of) befriends the droid; a distressed stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) passes himself off as a member of the Resistance in order to run away from the nasty First Order; a masked villain (who, oddly, only wears the mask for show) named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is prone to temper tantrums that can get pretty darn destructive if you’re swinging around a bright red lightsaber.
But I’m blathering. What’s really cool about this “Star Wars” is that it brings back old friends, albeit three decades – in the story and in real life – since we last saw them. About 40 minutes in, both Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) make a terrific entrance, and Ford is right back at home in the role, bringing with him a twinkling humor. After 40 more minutes, we get another couple: Leia (Carrie Fisher) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). It’s been a while since the once-romantically involved Solo and Leia have seen each other, and his first line to her is: “You changed your hair!” There are also a couple of quick cameos, but best of all, there’s some soaring through the universe in Solo’s old beater the Millennium Falcon.
The central characters are the newcomers Finn and Rey, and the central story is that the bad guys are after the good guys, and everyone is searching for Luke Skywalker. There’s dizzying action, plenty of exuberance (most of it from Daisy Ridley), a bit of mystery (Ridley’s character), a plot turn that will stun and silence filled auditoriums, and once, only once, someone uttering those special words, “May the Force be with you.”

Ed Symkus writes about movies for Gatehouse Media.

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt; directed by J.J. Abrams
With Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher
Rated PG-13