LONDON, (Reuters) – The male-centric universe of the original “Star Wars” gives way to a woman warrior and a female version of Yoda in the much-ballyhooed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” that will inevitably take the planet – this one – by storm as it opens this week.
Enter little known British actress Daisy Ridley as the loner Rey, ekeing out a subsistence living as a scavenger of spaceship parts on the planet Jakku.
An invasion by a squad of Stormtroopers, loyal to the militaristic “New Order” that has replaced the Empire of yore, suddenly puts her on a new career path: getting off the planet as fast as possible.
She does this in tandem with fellow British actor John Boyega, who plays Finn, a Stormtrooper who deserts when he is sickened by the carnage of the film’s opening military assault on a desert village.
They are two of the three new main characters. The other one is a new Darth Vader-esque masked villain named Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver.
The torch is thus passed to a younger generation in a new trilogy of the franchise that started in 1977 with George Lucas’s first “Star Wars” and which the Walt Disney Co acquired in 2012 for $4 billion.
But loyal fans also are going to love this for everything that is not new, from the return of Harrison Ford as Han Solo, his sidekick the Wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), the robots C-3PO and R2-D2, plus a cute new roly-poly one called BB-8, familiar spaceships and the plot line that sets up yet another Oedipal conflict between father and son.
Some dialogue from the original films that critics called flat but which has seeped into the world’s collective consciousness is reprised word for word – getting laughs from a screening audience.
“We’ve got company,” one of the characters says when the Stormtroopers invade Jakku, looking for a map that everyone, from the New Order to the Resistance led by Carrie Fisher’s character, promoted to General Leia, wants to get their hands on.
The possessor of that map will know how to find the missing Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker – Mark Hamill’s character – but to say more of that would be a spoiler of the First Order.
What is not a spoiler – and is no doubt what the Disney people would like everyone to know – is that this is a “Star Wars” that is not afraid to shed tears – those being Rey’s. But she is also a woman who can fix a spaceship condenser (or whatever) in no time flat, and seems to catch on to using a lightsaber a lot faster than Skywalker did way back when.
Lupita Nyong’o plays the goggle-eyed Maz Kanata, a dispenser of Yoda-like wisdom who runs a souped-up version of the famous Wild West galactic bar in the first “Star Wars.”
There is even a female Darth Vader-like character played by Gwendoline Christie of “Game of Thrones” fame, whose blond hair just peeps out from under her mask-like helmet.
“A woman always figures out the truth – always,” Solo confides to Finn early in the film. In this feminised “Star Wars” universe, even the Wookie Chewbacca, who took a strong dislike to the young Princess Leia almost 40 years ago, sees a place at the spaceship controls for Rey.
(Michael Roddy is the Entertainment Editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own.)