While this review will not contain outright spoilers, I will be discussing the movie in broad, general ways, and that might be too much for someone who hasn’t seen it and who wants to go in totally blind. If you’ve seen the trailers and a few commercials for the movie then there won’t be anything said here that will be new.
With that said…
The Force Awakens will make you feel all the feelings. It’s the most emotionally charged Star Wars movie ever made. It has pitch-perfect humor, thrilling chases, moments of terror, heartbreak, exhilaration and unbridled joy. It feels. And because it feels it will make you feel. JJ Abrams has crafted a movie that toys with every emotion you have and by the time the final five minutes are finished you very well may—like me—be so overcome with emotion that you will have to sit dumbfounded, trying desperately to process the wave of nostalgia.
That’s the key word to be used in describing this movie. Nostalgia. This movie takes you back to the Galaxy Far Far Away in ways that the Prequels never could. Characters, moments, objects in your face and tucked away in the background, there’s so much to see and experience (i.e. feel) that will remind you of the Original Trilogy. As someone who grew up with the original films, it was like hopping in a time machine and going back to Christmas 1995, when I first experienced the Trilogy.
I’ll have more to say about the plot and the characters in the spoiler-filled review, but just to touch on both: The plot will remind you of A New Hope. That’s the simplest way to put it. You’ll see it in a few decisions certain characters make, you’ll see it in the way certain characters are introduced and in the way certain characters exit. Though the movie has received nearly-universal acclaim, there have been a handful of less favorable reviews. Perusing them, it seems the common denominator of complaints is in the sheer volume of fan service and call backs the movie has. It certainly has a lot in common with a New Hope. In fact the movie follows the template (in broad strokes) of the original Star Wars movie very closely. The criticism seems unfair, however; if you’re walking into a movie starring Harrison Ford as Han Solo, which also serves as the kickoff to a new trilogy of Star Wars films, you should expect it to feel like A New Hope, and you should expect it to remind you of A New Hope too.
Michael Arndt, who drafted the first take on the movie (and who receives a “story by” credit) had his initial screenplay tossed aside because it didn’t give enough of a role to the core trio (namely Han). When JJ came on board he wanted to give the old gang one last romp, and as great as it was to see Han, Leia and Luke again, the fact is the new cast fit into the universe so seamlessly and their acting is so top-notch it’s not a stretch to say they could have carried the movie on their own. I’m still glad we got to see the old gang again, though.
Speaking of acting, this movie makes the prequel films look like a film school midterm assignment. And it’s not just the acting, but the directing, the screenplay and the tone are all…grown up. Yes it’s still space battles, talking robots and hocus pocus, but the movie has the kind of gravitas that made Empire Strikes Back such a delight. The humor is smart, not gradeschool. The pathos is genuine, not hammy. The movie simply has depth that the prequels sorely lacked. Forget “Star Wars,” this is just a flat-out well made movie, period.
If I had to find fault, I would point out three things.
First, the score by John Williams—while very good and great in parts—just doesn’t measure up to the work done in the previous six films. The music felt like Star Wars music, and that’s a credit to the maestro as he was able to create music that was so new yet so instantly familiar. But what it lacked were the well-defined themes (leitmotifs) assigned to particular people or circumstances. There are a few themes, namely for Rey, but nothing on the scale of Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars, Battle of the Heroes, Leia’s theme, The Imperial March or Children of the Force. Those themes transcended their respective films but none of the themes in this movie will reach beyond the film itself. It’s all good music, but nothing stands out.
Second, the middle portion of the movie, though it was a delight for me on my first viewing, might end up dragging a bit on the twentieth or thirtieth viewing. There’s an entire sequence that serves as a reintroduction to “Han Solo, scoundrel and pirate” that honestly could have been cut entirely, despite how much fun it was. Later, Han leads a couple of the new heroes to a bar that is reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina, and though some big plot-machinations happen, there is still a little fat that could have been trimmed. If I was to compare it to the Original Trilogy, the movie has parts that are as slow as the scenes with Luke on Tattooine, before he meets Ben. Again, for a Star Wars fan, it’s brilliant stuff, but looking at it as scenes in a film, the middle might not hold up on repeated viewings.
Third, the movie is loaded with questions that go unanswered. Some of them certainly will be explained in Episodes VIII and IX, but there is a lot of background material that will probably never be explained. At one point a very important artifact from the Original Trilogy makes its appearance and a character asks “where did you get this?” The response? “That’s a story for another time.” The trouble is, “another time” will probably never come. A lot has happened to the galaxy in the thirty years since Return of the Jedi, but we are only given bits and pieces to try and figure it all out. We’re given enough to get by, but no more. I’m glad the movie didn’t stop every ten minutes for a long exposition scene (like the prequels were wont to do), but I still wanted more, even if it was just a little more.
Those three complaints—which are insanely minor in the grand scheme of the things—are all I could muster up to find something “wrong” with the film. In reality, it’s a masterpiece of a movie. If you are a Star Wars fan, I hope you feel better soon, because only a deathbed illness should be keeping you away. By the time you read this you should already have seen this movie multiple times. If you haven’t, get on it.
10/10. Breathtaking. You must see it.
Then see it again.