Star Wars: The Force Awakens, produced by Lucasfilm and Abrams' BadRobot Productions felt familiar like an old friend, but one that had done some introspective work and has grown up a bit since we last met. Parents should note that it fully earns its PG-13 rating, based on violence alone. No sex, no nudity, no foul language. We do see blood a few times and there is plenty of death, some up close and personal. The violence is not gratuitous, at least, and the close-up killings are the bloodless, light-saber type for the most part. However, like the first movie (i.e. Episode IV in 1977), a beloved character does die, so there is some emotional violence that was the hardest part for my eight year old.
A tragic death is only one of many similarities with the original Star Wars; it appears that the creators took all the best elements and modernized them just a bit for this version. There is a strong female lead who makes the original Princess Leia (who was a feminist, silver-screen trailblazer in the 70's) look like a wuss -- an indication of our times and the recent trend of movies that feature aggressive and independent young women. There is the reluctant hero (as Han Solo was in the first movie), but this time the hero is played by an African American character who is not swaggering like Han, but otherwise just as handsome and instantly lovable. I enjoyed watching his transformation from self-centered to selfless just as much. There is also the wonderful sexual tension between these two leads, without the third-wheel (e.g., Luke, in the first movie), or at least one who lets the dynamic of the two take center-stage. There is no Luke-type character, unless you count the top fighter pilot. There's also just one, cute robot, BB-8. There is also a tragic father-son drama, the mega-weapon in the hands of the bad guys that has a singular weak spot that must be blasted to bits by x-wing fighters, and of course the push-pull of the two sides of the force.
As many know from her hilarious interview with Good Morning America or other press, we are treated to an older, now General Leia played by Carrie Fisher in The Force Awakens, and there are other, wonderful treats for fans of the original, most beloved movie. Suffice it to say that the theater erupted into applause several times during the screening I saw.
Overall, I forgave the recycling of themes, characters, and other elements, since they they were so beloved, modernized, and with stunning special effects. Given all of the amazing movies that have been produced since Star Wars Episode IV blew our minds using plastic models, I knew that I wouldn't be as amazed this time, but the movie is beautifully shot and every computer element feels as real as you would expect. I doubt I will see it in the theater 7 times as I did the first movie in 1977, but of course now we have digital streaming into our living rooms. I will certainly be seeing it again, and not just because my son insists on it.