‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review | I’ve Got a Good Feeling About This…
Editor’s Note: The following review was written with great care to avoid any legitimate “spoilers” about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it was necessary to reference aspects of the plot and characters to explain why this film works and why sometimes it’s not perfect.
We here at Crave do not consider this a “spoiler review,” but if you are of the opinion that knowing anything at all about this movie constitutes “spoiling” it, then we recommend you turn off the internet right now. You may even want to stay off of it until you see the movie for yourselves. We’ll still be here when you get back.
For the rest of you, we extend an invitation to read this mostly positive review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We hope that you enjoy it.
The Review Begins Now…
Despite the overwhelming rush of enthusiasm that has spread across the globe over the last three years, many of us have chosen to remain skeptical of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, we all love Star Wars, but after more than three decades of subpar motion pictures about these ongoing galactic conflicts between the Rebels and the Empire (or worse, the Republic and – shudder – The Trade Federation), it seemed a little more prudent to hope for the best but prepare for the worst… or at the very least, to prepare to be merely whelmed.
But then as the lights go down in the theater, the LucasFilm logo appears, and then the words STAR WARS blast into the frame like they’ve been shot out of the orchestra’s brass section, we begin to get a little excited. Maybe filmmaker J.J. Abrams has actually pulled this off. Maybe, just maybe, The Force Awakens will make Star Wars feel like Star Wars again.
It’s safe to say that this was Abrams’ goal, because if nothing else The Force Awakens is a sugar rush of a motion picture. As in the films of the original trilogy, the plot is a bit on the thin side, and is mostly just an excuse to shove a ragtag team of unlikely heroes from one incredible situation to another. Also like the original trilogy, these plucky do-gooders are witty, emotional creatures who respond to their unnatural predicaments in ways that seem natural. And also like the original trilogy, that breathless and amiable charm is most of the new film’s appeal. The Force Awakens is nothing if not appealing. Thank goodness.
But it is also nothing if not distractingly similar to the original trilogy, in its plot, its characters and its details. The important roles that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia played in the original story have been parceled off to newcomers Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron like they were their older siblings’ clothes. Plot points about droids with important plans and weapons of mass destruction and turning off shield generators and learning the ways of the Force and hitching a ride with ne’er-do-wells and torturous interrogations and snippy office politics between generals and Sith Lords and on and on and on until it seems rather like Star Wars: The Force Awakens has very few new ideas of its own.
And this, quite frankly, would be true. J.J. Abrams seems content to capture the spirit of the original series and simply remix the rest of it until Star Wars miraculously seems fresh again, and while that doesn’t exactly push the franchise into new and original directions it does at least feel nice to be back in the old neighborhood again. Oh look, the Death Star has been remodeled since we were last in town. That’s nice. And hey, the droids are cuter than ever. That’s adorable.
Although their trappings are similar, the cast is new and wonderful. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are a scrappy pair of heroes, charming and capable, and Oscar Isaac is indeed a crackerjack wisecracker. And yet none of them make nearly as much of an impression as Adam Driver who, as the villain Kylo Ren, makes this new series almost entirely his own. He’s a distinctive villain, emotionally and psychologically unlike anyone in the series, terrifyingly confident until he spins terribly out of control. His personal conflict is what we all wanted from Darth Vader in the prequel trilogy, full of depth and actual pathos. It’s not the only middle finger The Force Awakens throws at the last three live-action features, but it is the most forceful, and definitely the most effective.
What Star Wars: The Force Awakens gives back to this long-struggling series (struggling dramatically, that is, certainly not financially) is a genuine energy. There’s an extemporaneous dynamic to this adventure that overpowers the self-referential plotting and puzzle-piece characters. There’s an immediacy to the acting that makes even the silliest event engaging. The Force Awakens moves like Empire itself was chasing it, and that seems like a fantastic way to make a movie until you realize that it also forces J.J. Abrams to brush past many of the film’s most emotional moments because he’s already hurrying off to the next big thing. He’s like an overzealous museum docent who never quite gives you enough time to look at each of the pretty pictures, and to connect to each of them in a meaningful way. These scenes will probably register more and more with each passing viewing, but that’s no excuse for not registering effectively the first time around.
But perhaps these are the problems you want to have (assuming of course you’re willing to settle for a film with problems). There are certainly worse things to do than dash across the galaxy, get into exciting adventures, overcome all odds and explore wonderful worlds. That’s why Star Wars lingers in the consciousness. There’s an immediacy and richness to this saga that never runs dry, even though the most recent films slowed it to a trickle. It all comes rushing back now, in a torrent of enthusiasm and nostalgia.
Star Wars is Star Wars again. Even when it’s not perfect, it feels more-or-less right.
Top Photo: Walt Disney / LucasFilm
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.