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'The Force Awakens' must be experienced

Star Wars: The Force Awakens; 136 min; Rated PG-13

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is the seventh in what is one of the most successful franchises in film history. Over the decades — the first movie was released in May of 1977 — the generic “Star Wars” has morphed into a cultural phenom, one that has captured the imaginations of moviegoers globally, even when the sequels and prequels didn’t quite reach that bar so solidly established with the initial trilogy (“Star Wars IV: A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi”).

Woven through all the “Star Wars” films is the question: What is there about these stories, these characters, that is so compelling and has consistently resonated with wide-ranging audiences, generating huge box office numbers?

Perhaps George Lucas’ genius was in crafting a blend of high tech/low tech medieval lore (princesses, Jedi knights, mystical swords and dark Lords), combined with those mid-20th century Republic serials that kids flocked to every Saturday to watch cliff-hanging installments of action and adventure (“Don Winslow of the Navy,” “Flash Gordon,” or white hat/black hat westerns).

And hands down, there’s never been a better example of a character from the dark side than Darth Vader (aka Lord Vader), his black mask menacing, covering a visage we can only imagine, every breath a wheezing sound, surrounded by armed stormtroopers. His persona — voice, stature — was inspired and breathtaking. This was sci-fi fantasy unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

And so began a narrative that would span three movies and would introduce a galaxy far, far away that was both myth and entertainment and proved to be irresistible.

Ultimately, these films (to include “The Force Awakens”) are wonderfully constructed morality plays, primal fantasies that reduce our complex world, filled with ambiguity and uncertainty, to good vs. evil, as exemplified by an outgunned Rebellion/Resistance struggling to defeat the forces of the Empire/ The First Order. The loosely structured band of Rebels — never ominously militaristic — also represents the best impulses of men and women who yearn for democracy. And they still possess those familiar X-Wing fighters, while remaining ready to confront fascism’s jack-booted soldiers and their deadly armaments to include a Death Star equipped with a planet-destroying ray.

Regarding “The Force Awakens,” it is the first installment of a fresh trilogy that introduces a new generation of characters such as Rey (Daisy Ridley), a space junk scavenger; and Finn (John Boyega), a reluctant stormtrooper; as well as Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a hotshot Resistance pilot sent in search of Luke Skywalker. And not to forget Darth Vader’s creepily masked acolyte, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who kneels at the feet of the supreme leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis), one very large dude.

The story manages to skirt a precipice of nostalgia while avoiding being maudlin as it builds a bridge between the original trilogy, featuring Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), now a general in the Resistance, and at some point Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Clearly, the coming films will focus on what will be the ongoing battle, in all its permutations, between the Resistance and The Front.

So, if “The Force Awakens” is considered in great part prologue, then some of the best is yet to come. In essence, it is the first reboot of the initial “Star Wars” and pays homage to those first three films that so completely solidified the brand (enough to survive Jar Jar Binks and company).

For those proto-fans who sat down for the first time, back in 1977, and watched the yellow block script scroll slowly into the dark distance, words that framed the battles ahead, even today that moment remains unforgettable, if not iconic.

But that was then and this is now, and for kids having that exact same experience with “The Force Awakens,” well, they won’t be disappointed. The force is beginning to awaken. Wait for it.