The short version:
I liked it. But you can definitely tell George Lucas was not involved. His (trying to be nice but seeing right through the film) quote last week after seeing it “I think the fans are going to love it. It’s very much the kind of movie they’ve been looking for” was spot on with my impressions as well. The Force Awakens is a 2+ hour Star Wars fan film.
The even shorter version:
It’s Star Wars for the Remix / Reboot generation.
Spoilers: Trying not to be too spoilery but if you read beyond here, you might get some hints about the film and may choose instead to read the rest after you’ve seen the film.
I’d put it ahead of all the Prequels but behind any of the Original trilogy. The characters were brilliant but the plot was full of some disturbing holes and honestly, the constant near-copying of moments (and the same plot structure) from the Original Trilogy was so distracting that it kept pulling me completely out of the film.
Say what you will about George Lucas, but he would have never repeated himself like this. It feels a bit soulless without George. If there’s one thing The Force Awakens did, it was vindicate George Lucas somewhat. We may not have wanted to see three poorly-acted movies about trade disputes, political conspiracies, and a man-child with too much force power but doggone it, at least George was trying something new with the prequels.
But I did enjoy it. Just a little underwhelmed with how easy it was to poke holes in the plot and all the constant copycatting. Where The Force Awakens really hits its stride is in the last 15 minutes. The ending lightsaber battle and big reveal are when this film truly felt like it was working on its own terms and if there’s one thing the film did well above all else is make me want to see Episode VIII.
The film succeeds because its characters are so awesome. This is some of the best acting in the entire series, a brilliant cast, which helps us to overlook all the rushed moments, copycat plotting, and the confusing coincidence-ridden narrative.
Daisey Ridley was stunning. Just blew me away in every scene. My favorite new character of the series. She’s an obvious copy of Luke but she is such a great new actress, commanding every scene she was in, that I was captivated the entire time by her performance.
Kylo Ren, wow. Adam Driver continues to amaze me. When was the last time you rooted as much for the bad guy as the good girl? This is exactly how Lucas wanted us to feel about Anakin in Revenge of the Sith (but none of that character worked). Here Kylo Ren is conflicted, confused, moving from one emotion to the next. An incredibly interesting character I was fully invested in.
BB-8 was a big home run for me. So good. Perfect amount of character and cuteness. So much personality. One of the best things about the entire film honestly. Ben Burtt’s sound design makes another Star Wars character come alive.
I loved how the film examined some different sides of the force we haven’t really seen before. Having Ren be primarily propelled by fear (instead of hate) was a great addition to the lore.
The set design was incredible. Some of the best sets in the entire series.
JJ Abrams directing was assured at every turn. This film looks great, probably the 2nd best looking Star Wars film in the entire series (behind Empire Strikes Back) with beautiful glowing blues, reds, and oranges against hard shadows. Huge credit goes to the cinematography here for making The Force Awakens look like Star Wars.
Finn was excellent. My brother didn’t like him as much because he felt that as a Stormtrooper, Finn would not have that personality he displayed in the film. I can see that view but John Boyega is such an awesome actor, that I was buying everything he was selling. To my brother’s point though, I do think that if Finn had been written more as a brainwashed guy that starts to question and then slowly comes out of that brainwashed state through the film, it would have been more interesting.
Oscar Isaac as Poe, so natural, so effortlessly fun. That’s why I say the characters were amazing. The acting totally saves and elevates everything and Poe is a good example of this.
Nostalgia factor was off the charts with this. They did such a good job of playing to what fans have been demanding. For those looking to relive the original trilogy and their childhood’s positive thoughts towards it, The Force Awakens has it in spades.
Carrie Fisher didn’t have the greatest track record as an actress during the original trilogy but I REALLY liked her in this. The years have made her a much better actress. Her facial expressions were powerful. Some of the most touching and most memorable scenes in the film for me. I was sad that the audience clapped for nearly everyone else but when Leia first came on screen, there was silence.
Hamill is amazing in this. Although he is short on screen time, what he does with his facial expressions is incredible. My favorite part of the film. Perfectly encapsulated how Luke would act and react.
In terms of lightsaber battles, the ending battle here was excellent. One of the TRULY unique scenes in The Force Awakens that stood apart from all the other films. I loved the amateurism of the fight. The emotion. The staging. Having real lighted sword props that shined off their faces and the snow made it so intense and believable. I’d put this lightsaber battle tied for second place with Empire Strikes Back’s Luke vs. Darth Vader fight. (Return of the Jedi’s throne room battle is the all time best and Phantom Menace’s acrobatic battle is third for me).
Harrison Ford is pitch perfect here. It was so nice to see him having fun and owning the character that made him famous again. Also, Kasdan’s dialogue for Han was so perfect. It’s hard to write Han correctly but Kasdan really gets the character. Some of the best scenes in the film. So nice to see that old Ford charisma. Great chemistry with the new cast. He earned every dollar of the TONS of money Disney threw at him and finally got his wish.
What didn’t work:
Probably my biggest complaint was the ridiculous coincidence after coincidence that filled up the plot. They just happen to find the Falcon, then Han just happens to find them 10 minutes later, etc. It’s one contrivance after another and I was shocked Kasdan had allowed that kind of thing to get through in the script. But again, time crunch forced them to make concessions. I hate deus ex machina stuff like that in a script. “This plot point happens not because it makes sense but because the plot needed to have it happen at that time.” George Lucas’ stories and worlds always fit together so perfectly. I was missing that here.
Maz Kanata’s design and character fell completely flat. She looked like a prequel CG reject, there was nothing memorable about her, and she served only one purpose, to provide exposition. In some ways, you could look at her as the Yoda of this film and in that comparison, Yoda blows her away in every category: design, personality, importance to plot, etc.
The bounty hunters Han encounters looked liked third rate cosplay rejects. Compare their design and costumes to the bounty hunters we get glimpses of in Empire Strikes Back. Boba Fett, Dengar Bossk, IG-88. All genius designs. But these bounty hunters couldn’t have been more disappointing in their costumes and their characterization/dialogue/acting. Also, what a waste to use the team from The Raid films and do nothing with them.
Supreme Leader Snoke looks absolutely horrendous. A bad CG combination of Voldemort and The Emperor. Threat level: zero. So disappointed in that design. That’s the kind of thing that feels way too obvious, done before (in a better way), and totally rushed without time to do it right. A huge crime to use someone as talented as Andy Serkis for motion capture and then just have him sit in a chair. Lame. As my brother put it, “they should have seen the demo reels and said ‘this isn’t looking convincing nor is anywhere near sinister enough, we need to go back to the drawing board.'”
Rey’s journey to the force was seriously rushed. Again, plot let me down here. I didn’t like how she just suddenly became powerful on her own. Even Anakin, Luke, or Yoda couldn’t do stuff like that without training.
Some of Finn’s dialogue was too modern-sounding. “Did you see that?” is one example, exclaimed in an uncomfortable stereotypical way that sounded nothing like Star Wars.
Max von Sydow is totally wasted. He gets maybe four lines of forgettable dialogue and then he’s not seen again. Wished he had been given more to do.
Did you hear that interview where JJ Abrams said Captain Phasma was the best character and how she is his favorite part of the film? After seeing it, I’m scratching my head. Huh? I liked her design and she was fine in her small role, but there was really nothing there to give any credence to what Abrams said. Biggest misstep was having Fenn fight a nameless Stormtrooper in the middle of the film. That should have been Phasma he was fighting. Would have made so much more sense when they face each other later on.
Way, way, way too much “as you know Bob” dialogue where characters tell each other things they already know so we can hear them as an audience. Super distracting.
R2-D2 was mishandled. He’s “pouting” because Luke is gone? That’s the best they could come up with? Then he just turns on at exactly the right moment when the plot needs him to. Felt so unearned.
John Williams score is kind of forgettable. I can’t believe it. Compare his work in the prequels with themes you were humming along with right after the films to this. After seeing it twice, I’m still scratching my head as to why there’s nothing here to really get excited about. He uses the old themes well but I was looking for something new like he had done with the past films.
There were several times in the film where I was actually bored. Bored! I don’t even remember feeling that way in any of the prequels. Some of the scenes with Maz Kanata really fell flat. There were a few others too. Not many but still found that really odd.
The space battles were pretty generic and forgettable. Since so much of the plot we had seen before, it took a lot of the suspense out of the film because you already knew what was going to happen. “Oh, here’s another trench battle, we already know how that ends…” etc. I will give big credit though to that X-Wing tracking shot with Finn coming in and out of frame. That was a jaw-dropper.
Summing It Up
I know JJ Abrams had begged Disney to give him 6+ more months to get the script fixed up and prepare some better production designs but the suits at Disney said “no way”, giving him an ultimatum of Christmas 2015 or else. So on those terms, I think JJ and team did a really great job with the time they had. But if only they’d had a chance to do 2 or 3 more passes on the script to fix the plot holes, coincidences and contrivances, and some of the character & design issues. This could have gone from good to really great.
In the end, The Force Awakens had a few specific jobs that it needed to (and successfully did) accomplish:
1) Make Disney its $4 billion back – CHECK
2) Introduce a new set of likeable characters to push the series forward – CHECK
3) Be better than the prequels – CHECK
4) Capitalize off the nostalgia in the original series to sell tickets – CHECK
I believe there will be some pretty heavy blowback on this film, years down the road when the hype wears off, but for now, we can just enjoy the highest budgeted fan film ever created. A crowd pleaser for the generation that demands we have the same thing repackaged to us over and over again and loves to refer to their favorite intellectual properties as “franchises.”
With JJ having done his job and now moving on, I look forward to what comes next as a new director takes over and hopefully shows us something we haven’t seen before (but still just as thrilling). On home video though, Disney might want to consider a title change for this film:
Star Wars: The Force Remakens.