At no point during this movie review will I reveal or spoil any of the story points from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I managed to see the film without knowing major plot turns or surprise twists (and there are a few) and would love for filmgoers to have the same experience I did. On the other hand, I have to report that this movie, one of the most hyped of all time, is very good but not much more than that.
My credentials as a Star Wars fan aren’t necessary to divulge but, since my positive but not glowing review of this massively attended film will unquestionably be met with derision, here they are: I was born the year Star Wars: A New Hope was released and seeing it in the theater is the earliest memory I have. Like many children of the 1980’s, I had the Star Wars action figures, bed sheets, posters and books and once went trick or treating in a homemade Darth Vader costume. I can recall that C-3PO’s Cereal was never as good as Captain Crunch but I still salivate for the taste of those long gone Pepperidge Farms Star Wars Cookies. Particularly, the chocolate Vaders, which were scrumptious. I still have the framed Vader autograph I got from a mall signing (the picture is addressed to me and signed not by David Prowse but simply “Darth Vader, XO”). I once went on a long, late night road trip to the one movie theater in Colorado that projected the first trailer to The Phantom Menace (my friends and I sat through the three-hour Meet Joe Black to see a two minute, twelve second trailer. Yes, we were nerds).
Like many film buffs, I don’t recall a time in my life when Star Wars wasn’t a saga with a permanent residence in my imagination. That’s a lot for a new movie to live up and, for the most part, The Force Awakens didn’t cut it. With measured expectations, however, it’s enjoyable and made with affection.
Newcomer Daisy Ridley’s pluckiness carries the pokey first half. John Boyega’s highly touted performance and character are one-note but he’s got potential. Once Adam Driver genuinely creepy villain enters the movie (or rather, once we get to fully see him), he gives the film a kick it sorely needs. To no one’s surprise, Harrison Ford’s still got it as Han Solo, Chewbacca has never stolen so many scenes before and Oscar Isaac can clearly carry this movie (strangely, he’s shoved into the background).
The pacing is refreshingly laid back and reflects the 1977 original. However, this recycles much of A New Hope, in the same way Star Trek: Into Darkness recreated (with mixed results) the narrative of The Wrath of Khan. Even with some good twists and a few tragic moments, the story didn’t captivate me. This is better than a fan film but just slightly. Even with Lawrence Kasdan as a co-writer, the depth was not there.
Why do we spend so much time with that character who resembles a Cheeto with glasses? I found the final scene to be anticlimactic and frustrating. There are characters standing around, waiting for something to do in the future sequels (Marvel movie style). I found Andy Serkis’ CGI villain underwhelming and it sounds like John Williams was trying hard to avoid repeating himself, though his classic compositions were all I wanted to hear. Also, a main character gets a rushed, crash course lesson on becoming a Jedi that seems at odds with the established lore (yes, I’m still a nerd).
The high point is the light saber battle in a snow crested wood. While the fight choreography in the prequels leaned heavily on martial arts and CGI enhanced flips. this offers more of a genuine fencing match and a test of strength. It’s the film’s best scene and it comes very late. I will be revisiting The Force Awakens but the only prior installment it fully surpasses is The Phantom Menace. There’s no Jar Jar Binks here but Yoda (and a genuinely fresh story) is sorely missed.