This one is going is to be insanely difficult. I know plenty of people who do not want to be spoiled, and I’ve seen numerous people threaten all sorts of nasty business (one friend threatened to blast people with laser satellites…somehow). So I’m going to give my rating now and write as spoiler free as I possibly can. Ready? It’s a low….FULL PRICE.
Okay, for all of you who stuck around: yes, you can breathe. Star Wars is actually good again. While this is by no means a perfect film, it succeeds in entertaining in ways the Prequel Trilogy utterly failed to do. Mostly because it feels like the Original Trilogy. So why didn’t I think it was perfect? Because it felt TOO much like the Original Trilogy. Confused? Let’s get into it.
To keep the plot as spoiler free as I can, all you need to know is that a new threat has arisen in the galaxy calling itself First Order. The organization is Nazi Military 2.0 and now with Imperial weaponry and a powerful fanboy of Darth Vader calling himself Kylo Ren. Anyways, they’re trying to fight a Resistance movement led by General Leia Organa. Through a series of circumstances, this whole set up involves Poe, the best starfighter in the galaxy; Finn, a soldier who could not complete the mission he was literally bred to do; and Rey, a junk scavenger waiting on her home planet for her family. And that’s all you need to know.
I mention the characters first because they’re really what are going to make or break this movie for people. Finn is particularly important to me, and not because he’s a different race from what I’m used to seeing in big budget movies (though that plays a significant factor). Finn has a surprising amount of dimension to him, and you get to understand why he feels the way he does about First Order. He’s funny without being cartoonish; skilled without being overly perfect; and he’s just a damn fine character. And his actor, John Boyega, truly revels in this character to be something special.
Next we have Daisy Ridley’s Rey, our second of our two main protagonists and the one who feels the most confident of the bunch. She’s someone to both root for and to aspire to, and Daisy Ridley is able to bring a ton of conflicting emotions just in her face alone. She strains with loyalty, curiosity, and her own feelings of justice. If I have a complaint about her, it has nothing to do with her performance, but…well, let’s say she leans “skills” that look like would take years to utilize effectively.
Then there’s Kylo Ren, our big bad. What I find so interesting about him is that he’s really not intimidating the way Darth Vader was, but actually pathetic in that he LITERALLY wants to become Darth Vader. It all leads to surprising reveals and a genuine story turn that I actually yelped “no” in the theater. Obviously, he’s mired in spoilers, so I’ll come back to him another day.
Finally there’s the return of the original trilogy, and out of the three, Harrison Ford truly delivered. After seeing him sleepwalk through roles for the past decade, this was the one that gave him the right character and the right script to deliver something truly memorable. Something that was hinted at in the Original Trilogy that never materialized and he fulfills the promise of the character of Han Solo.
The fights, the sights, the chases, all of it was exciting, all of it was entertaining, and all of it made me feel like I was 8 years old again watching the Original Trilogy for the first time. But that’s when it hit me, the story beats from A New Hope are all here…as in the order came, along with major story beats from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
And here is where I come to my biggest critique of the film: it feels slavish to the original trilogy. Save for the last 20 minutes, the entire movie up to that point could be created with your mental script of the original trilogy. This is all by design of course in the choice of director, JJ Abrams. And this is where I hope people will finally realize that the guy does not have an original idea anywhere in his body. His entire career from Mission: Impossible to Star Trek to Super 8 to this, he feels like a kid copying the techniques of the masters without any consideration for the method. To me, it hurt the film, as it felt too predictable…
…until the climax when Abrams finally goes off script and delivers something that truly sets in stone something I’m going to look forward playing out in future installments.
What kept me going throughout the film despite Abrams’ main weakness was his great strength: understanding of decent character development and exciting set pieces connecting the dots. All the scenes flow into each other and nothing feels out of place or superfluous. The action scenes were as busy as they needed to be to deliver some truly exciting moments. The witty banter back and forth between Harrison Ford, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley fully compliments the whole package.
Oh and can I finally geek out about Oscar Isaac now? Finally, a Cuban (half anyways, still counts) in the Star Wars universe and he’s a total bad ass. He’s charismatic and skilled without ever feeling vain. He doesn’t have a huge role here until the very end, but he shines in literally every scene he’s in. Could not be prouder of this guy.
So in the end, I can finally love again. To hell with the Prequels. And to anybody who (understandably) thinks the comparisons to the Original Trilogy with this movie made it weak, the attempts to mimic the beats of the Original Trilogy were significantly weaker in the Prequel Trilogy. Where the Prequels fail, and The Force Awakens succeed is based both on coherent action scenes & great character interaction. A little bit of character can save a film or even make it better than you expect (Fast & Furious and Kingsmen, respectively) whereas a lack of character can eternally damn a film to the wastelands of mediocrity (the Divergent films, the Maze Runner films, or basically any YA adaptation that isn’t Harry Potter).
Despite my issue with the story beats, I’m still recommending this film. This is a low…