(originally published Dec 18, 2015)
For better or worse, Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like a film that was made to the exact specifications of all of the loud, butthurt, crybaby "fans" that have been pissing their pants about the prequel trilogy raping their childhood for a decade. It's precisely the film it needed to be: A committee-approved set-up for a new trilogy that's better than the prequels.
It's exceptionally well-made, deftly-directed and roaring with that signature JJ Abrams fire the whole time. The way he connects actions with motivated camera movement is wondrous and sometimes breathtaking. He's truly a master of the craft, and everyone working on this film is bringing their A-game. I'd argue that from a pure aesthetic standpoint, this is probably the most well-crafted Star Wars film to date. It really does *feel* like a Star Wars film, and bringing Lawrence Kasdan on to work on the script was a good call, since he brought a lot of the original trilogy's charm along with him, even if a lot of the beats are strung together through coincidence. Exciting coincidence, but still coincidence.
The new characters are all fantastic. Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren are poised for legendary status with the imprint they've already left on this saga with just one film. Kylo Ren especially feels like the tortured and complex Anakin that George Lucas couldn't wrestle out of Hayden Christensen. The only massively huge disappointments came from what amounted to nothing more than a cameo from The Raid stars Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman, who were CRIMINALLY underused here. Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma also amounted to practically nothing, which sucks. She's this film's Boba Fett, simply standing around looking cool and saying like 2 lines in the whole film.
If JJ took one thing from Lucas, it's the idea that the trilogies all "rhyme," and The Force Awakens rhymes with A New Hope a bit too much. Big moments are fairly easy to spot coming, and dulled their power. If you're paying attention, there are very few surprises to be had. Like A New Hope, things just sorta are the way they are when the film begins with little to no explanation apart from the opening crawl, but here it felt like some elements were a bit undercooked, like the Starkiller and The First Order. Very little of the film felt new or novel enough, and instead felt like a bigger remix of a familiar, but wonderful song. I guess this is par for course with Star Wars, as A New Hope in itself is a remix of many familiar songs, but it still felt a little disappointing here, especially when you consider how, despite them being inferior films to this, the prequels took us to a lot of different places that this film straight-up didn't.
In many ways, this film is probably the ultimate realization of our generation's horrifying fetishization of nostalgia. But it's not all bad news. For one thing, this is a nostalgia trip that most of us are okay with taking, and for another, it's being handled very well. As much as this film was a total love letter to the originals, a lot of it did feel like very overt rehashes of classic SW staples and less like "rhyming." A desert planet. A massive spherical enemy base. A Nazi-esque squad of bad guys. A cantina with music and weird creatures in it. A cool-looking badass who does basically nothing. Plus others that I don't want to get into because of spoilers. I'll be interested to go back and watch A New Hope and pick out all of the ways it's been mirrored in Force Awakens, but even with one viewing, these things were pretty obvious.
If I sound doomy and gloomy, I promise you I didn't feel this way for the 2+ hours I spent with the film, which were full of rapturous glee. Emotionally and viscerally, it's top-tier entertainment, and I was dazzled pretty much the whole time. It's a Star Wars film through and through, and while it isn't the masterpiece that I'm sure everyone who sucked the marketing hype dick will say it is, it's certainly good enough. It's a lay-up that's setting us up for what will hopefully be a slam dunk Episode VIII in the hands of Rian Johnson, and really, that's all we (and the Disney Empire) needed it to be. It's still better than a lot of films I saw this year, and I'm looking forward to being dazzled by it again.