Thirty years after the Fall of the Galactic Empire, the New Republic is threatened by the First Order. The Resistance is still around, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), but Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone hermit and no-one knows where he is. On the desert planet of Jakku, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has received a map of Skywalker’s possible location from Lor San Tekka (Max Von Sydow). Stormtroopers under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) raid the village, kill Lor San Tekka, and capture Poe. Poe’s droid BB-8 escapes into the desert with the map and is found by a poor orphan scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). Kylo Ren tortures Poe with the Force and learns about BB-8.
Stormtrooper FN-2187 (John Boyega) becomes disillusioned with the First Order, frees Poe, and they escape in a stolen TIE-fighter. Poe calls him Finn. They go searching for BB-8 but are shot down by the First Order and crash in the desert. Finn survives but thinks Poe died in the crash. He finds Rey and BB-8, but the First Order attacks them. Looking for a way to escape, they steal a beat-up old ship in the junkyard called the Millennium Falcon and escape the planet.
Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) find the Falcon and board her. Hans says, “Chewie, we’re home.” The line received respectful silence and some tears from cast and crew. Gangs wanting to settle a score with Han attack, but the group escape. At the First Order’s Starkiller Base—a planet turned into a weapon—Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleason) use the weapon. Snoke (only in projection so far) is unsure about Kylo Ren, who declares that his father, Han Solo, means nothing to him.
Aboard the Falcon, Han finds that BB-8’s map is incomplete. He says that Luke tried to rebuild the Jedi Order but exiled himself when an apprentice turned to the Dark Side and destroyed the temple, killing many apprentices. The gang travel to the planet Takodana and meet with wise, old cantina owner Maz Kanata (unrecognizable Lupita Nyong’o), who offers to help get BB-8 to the Resistance. Rey is drawn by the Force into a vault, where she finds Luke’s and Anakin’s old lightsabre and experiences disturbing visions that send her running off into the forest. Kaz gives the lightsabre to Finn.
Starkiller Base destroys the New Republic. The First Order attacks Takodana, searching for BB-8. Han, Chewie, and Finn are saved by the Resistance in X-wing fighters led by Poe (not dead after all). General Leia arrives with C-3PO and reunites with Han. Kylo captures Rey and takes her to Starkiller Base, but she resists his mind-reading. Snoke orders Kylo to bring Rey to him, but she escapes using a Jedi mind-trick.
At the Resistance Base on D’Qar, BB-8 finds R2-D2, shut down ever since Luke disappeared. As Starkiller Base prepares to attack again, the Resistance plans to destroy the Starkiller’s thermal oscillator. On the Falcon, Han, Chewie, and Finn infiltrate the base, find Rey, and plant bombs. Han confronts Kylo and begs him to abandon the Dark Side. Kylo kills him. Chewbacca shoots Kylo, wounding him, and triggers the explosives. Poe destroys the thermal oscillator.
Kylo pursues Finn and Rey into the forest. Finn battles Kylo with the lightsabre to protect Rey, but Kylo knocks him out. Rey takes the lightsabre and attacks Kylo with the power of the Force. The planet begins to collapse beneath them. Snoke orders General Hux to evacuate the base with Kylo. Chewbacca rescues Rey and Finn and they escape in the Falcon. The Resistance bugs out, Starkiller Base implodes. On D’Qar, Leia, Rey, and Chewbacca mourn Han. R2-D2 wakes up and reveals the rest of the map. Rey uses it to find the ocean-planet Ahch-To in the Falcon. Rey finds Luke on an island and presents him with his father’s lightsabre.
Does all this sound familiar? J.J. Abrams is such a Star Wars fan that he has chopped up the six previous films into pieces and put them in a stew. But it’s a very tasty stew. You have the Old Guard in mentor roles and young versions of them, with interesting backstories, to root for. You have the Millennium Falcon, the old robots, and new robots. You have an interesting crop of mysterious bad guys, including Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones as Captain Phasma. Luke appeared at the very end because no matter when he appeared, he became the central focus of the movie, so they made him the MacGuffin everyone was looking for. CGI was used sparingly to be more like the original trilogy, and the acting was up to that level. The movie grossed a billion dollars in 12 days. It had a 93% approval on Rotten Tomatoes. It won no Raspberry Awards, first since Return of the Jedi. You could say it was a success for Disney.
Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and Elizabeth Olsen were considered for Rey. The last-named turned it down to play Scarlet Witch for Marvel. Michael Fassbender and Eddie Redmayne were considered for Kylo Ren, James McAvoy and Chiwetel Ejiofor for Poe Dameron. Kenny Baker did not play R2-D2, but he was listed as the R2-D2 consultant. He died shortly thereafter at the age of 81. Carrie Fisher’s daughter is in the film, with buns on her head. Maz Kanata was based on J.J. Abrams’ former English teacher Rose Gilbert. The Cantina song “Jabba Flow” was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Andy Serkis has three minutes of screen-time. Rey doesn’t appear for ten minutes, Han and Chewie for forty minutes. FN-2187 (Finn’s number) was Princess Leia’s cell-number in A New Hope. J.J.’s friend Daniel Craig plays the not-too-bright guard that Rey Jedi mind-tricks into letting her go. Fans call him JB-007. Directors considered included Matthew Vaughn, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, Ben Affleck, Joss Whedon, Brad Bird, Rian Johnson, and James Cameron before J.J. Abrams got the nod. The creature Rey sells her scavenged items to was Simon Pegg. Captain Phasma’s chrome armour comes from a melted-down Naboo spacecraft. She was named after the shiny death-ball in Phantasm. The rebel base was shot in Greenham common, home to the 501st Tactical Missile Wing of the USAF. Kylo Ren’s flickering lightsabre is said to show that he is ambivalent about being a Sith, but there is a cracked crystal in the sword-hilt, which would do that too. Mark Hamill received a million dollars for a minute on screen, with no dialogue. He was 63, the same age as Alec Guinness in A New Hope.
In the tradition of three major landscapes, Jakku is a desert world like Tatooine, Starkiller Base is on a snow-covered world like Hoth, and Takodana is a forest-world like Endor—one for each of the original trilogy. The ravenous Rathtars that Han is transporting are related to the Sarlacc of Tatooine. The rumble made by their running is the sound of the boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. General Hux drapes his black leather military coat over his shoulders like Major Arnold Toht in that movie. Simon Pegg’s daughter when she saw Yoda in the Empire Strikes Back, said, “Daddy! He’s real!” Until then, she had only seen the CGI Yoda. Pegg told that story to Abrams, who decided to use puppetry and practical effects as much as possible. The puppeteers called Pegg The Guy Whose Daughter Saved Star Wars.