Some reviews are written to help people make a decision on whether to see a movie or not, but in the case of the new Star Wars film, that is not important. It’s already a huge success – everyone has made their decision anyway.
Perhaps a better option would be to look at the movie and what it means for the industry now. With that in mind, spoilers, everywhere!
The Force Awakens is made with a stunning amount of competency. It feels more like early Lucas than Lucas himself has been able to manage in a long time. JJ Abrams should be applauded for this. There is a definite sense of fun and entertainment throughout the movie that will warm the heart of any Star Wars fan. In fact, sometimes it feels like a surgical strike aimed at the heart of those who grew up in the 70s and 80s.
Looked at outside this lens though, there are certainly some problems. For example, the film is virtually a remake of the first Star Wars film (Episode IV: A New Hope) to a degree where literally nothing that happens is a surprise. If viewed as a film in its own right, this means that some of the bigger moments at the end mean nothing. While Lucas’ later trilogy is much maligned, he did at least make an attempt to continue his world building and expand the mythos in them. The prequels had their positives; they built the world and that brought wonder as well as the fun and entertainment.
The Force Awakens is devoid of this sense of wonder, and effectively adds nothing to the world; it’s so hell bent on reminding us of the original trilogy that it lacks its own sense of identity. It feels like someone from Disney dropped a file on JJ Abrams’ desk marked MARVEL MAGIC FORMULA. but Star Wars is a very different fish to the comic book properties it’s now related to in that it brings virtually nothing to the table.
So nothing happens to surprise, and nothing happens to expand the world. This makes the Force Awakens sound like a bad film – but it is not.
Firstly, the film is excellently cast. It must not have been easy for these actors who are quite literally replacing beloved characters (it cannot be stressed just how closely this film follows A New Hope). Even BB8 comes across well in the presence of R2D2 and C3P0, when he so easily could have been yet another annoying sidekick.
Secondly, the world is excellently realised. It’s hard to be impressed by CGI these days but The Force Awakens uses images of massive, crashed Star Destroyers and the like to frame shots – it is an education on how to use CGI right.
Finally, the film feels progressive, in a subtle way. You don’t really care that Rey is a woman. The point is not rammed home, she’s just doing what has to be done- and the fact that it’s annoying “menenists” across the world is a tribute to how well she comes across. The same goes for Finn.
Of all the cast, Kylo Ren is perhaps the weakest. Of course, Adam Driver had the biggest boots to fill, as his character replaces Darth Vader. All goes reasonably well until he takes off his helmet, and it suddenly seems like a whinier Max Landis has gone to the dark side of the force. Perhaps it would be impossible for Vader’s replacement to be his equal- and that’s why they literally have him say it in the film.
So taking a sober look, The Force Awakens is perhaps not as world shatteringly good as some are saying, but it’s certainly good enough for a couple of viewings.