I’m going to try to be quick with my review of the newest Star Wars episode, while also avoiding spoilers as much as possible. Let’s be clear: this is a good movie. If you enjoyed the original trilogy, you will most likely enjoy this entry in the series. That being said, there are a lot of problems.
I’d like to get the good stuff out of the way first, especially considering most of it was shown in the trailers already. The three new main characters are great. Poe, Finn, and Rey are all likeable and fun to watch on screen. I felt a little awkward about how the first black actor to play as a main “good guy” character in a Star Wars film (Lando was a traitor and Mace was a nobody) was used primarily for comic relief, but he played it well regardless. Even the new droid defied my expectations.
The movie is a huge love letter to the original trilogy, so any fan of those films will enjoy seeing Han Solo, Leia, and Luke Skywalker come back. The CGI and practical effects were pretty seamless and I didn’t find any part of the visuals jarring, except for maybe one specific monster. TFA was an experience of sights and sounds straight out of a Star Wars fan’s wet dream.
That’s actually where the movie’s biggest fault lies, which sounds strange to me as I write this. It’s great to have a new Star Wars movie, especially one directed by someone who is such a big fan of the series, but it ended up feeling more like a big budget fan-fiction than an actual sequel. It adopted many of the traditional themes from the original trilogy, such as swipe transitions, the scrolling text in the opening, and the futuristic sci-fi aesthetic that is worn and lived in, but seemed to miss the point of why those were used in the first place. It’s very strange to see a movie that is based on a movie (Episodes IV, V, and VI) that is based on so many other movies (Flash Gordon serials, The Hidden Fortress, etc), but in the end of the day, J. J. failed to bridge the gap between paying homage to a classic sci-fi trilogy and tipping his hat to the films that inspired it. Not to just hammer on about the orig-trig (don’t call it that, please), but they’re really TFA’s only point of comparison. The prequels may not be great (some of them are downright awful), but at least they tried something new… Episode VII feels rehashed and very safe, so much so that I’m struggling to remember what happened less than 12 hours later. While the story was lackluster at best (mostly carbon copied from the older films), the film did let the main characters shine, building a foundation for the rest of the trilogy. I am excited to see the next film way more than I was to see The Force Awakens, thanks in large part to a nerd chill inducing ending.
I think obligatory is a good word to describe The Force Awakens as a whole. J. J. did his best to jam as many scenes into the seemingly short 2 and a half hour film so as to not offend die hard fans. This was a tall order and I can hardly blame Abrams for giving his best effort, but to say this movie is as good as or even comparable to the original trilogy is a stretch. It’s good, even great in some ways, but it felt more like a fan-film than an honest sequel to the classics. I’d prefer it if Disney stripped Episodes IV, V, and VI of all of the Special Edition bullshit and released them on Bluray rather than make this undeniable cash cow, but I understand why they did it and I don’t fault anyone for loving it.
If J. J. took the extra 30 minutes that the film needed and focused more on the story line, I would have walked out of the theater much happier. Everything felt very rushed, which left the story without much weight. Nothing anyone did felt very impactful because the film didn’t give me the time to really digest what was going on. Here’s a popular character from the older films, here’s a space ship battle, bam, lightsabers, Chewie shrugs and turns to the camera. Episode VII succeeds in doing exactly what J. J. intended, except for tell a compelling story. It does a great job pandering to nostalgia and getting people excited for the things they remember from the original trilogy, but trims the fat so much that I’m left wondering why anything happened in the first place. Well, besides setting up a trilogy of movies to milk the built up nostalgia from the past forty years.
I think this movie will improve once the Director’s Cut is released, just like the Lord of the Rings movies. These types of crown jewels of nerddom walk a thin line between mainstream appeal and pleasing die hard fans, but directors often lean more towards getting the parents and their kids in to theaters seats than giving fans answers or getting everyone invested in story lines. If Disney lets Abrams release a more fleshed out version of Episode VII, I think it could really knock it out the park.