Spoiler-Free Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens Totally Deserves the Hype
5 out of 5 stars. Would get hype again.
Editor’s Note: This review contains no spoilers. However, a few bits that may still give away more than you want to know—depending on how you want to manage your expectations—have been placed behind spoiler bars anyway. Enjoy!
Before going any further, I should disclose a little personal Star Wars history. I did not grow up on these movies. Neither parent (or even aunt or uncle) found much to enjoy about them, so I was never shown them as a kid. I didn’t even see a Star Wars movie until high school, and at that point, I made the mistake of watching the movies in theater at the time (the prequels) which made me even less interested in watching. I finally did watch the original three (hey, they are MUCH BETTER) but had that odd experience of seeing a movie everyone else had childhood nostalgia for as an adult, instead.
Han Solo and Luke kind of bugged me as an adult, and the tendency to push Leia away from action (when she was clearly capable) was a frustration. I liked the movies; there are things about them I genuinely LOVED, but I wasn’t as over the moon with the franchise as I knew others were. I was kind of dispassionate towards them, and I was generally apathetic towards the idea of restarting the franchise again.
But seeing The Force Awakens as a stand-alone movie, starting its own trilogy, I have to admit my absolute shock and awe when I say … I LOVE this movie! Without nostalgia goggles or the overwhelming hype I know fans went to this movie with, and able to simply watch as its own movie, it works beautifully—truly, from start to finish, regardless of the amount of nostalgia and knowledge you go into the movie with. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had at the theater all year, and J.J. Abrams puts away his fanboy side and is just a good storyteller with the skill for creating engaging new characters within this familiar galaxy.
Despite the predominance of press about the returning three veteran actors, the new characters are by far the best part of the movie. It takes a while for the familiar faces to show up, but it doesn’t matter. When you open your movie with Oscar Isaac being the most engaging and likable you’ve ever seen him on camera (saying a lot considering how likable he is), you know Abrams knows how to tell this story. I literally wrote down, “I think I love Oscar Isaac in this movie” after he did his
But, the undeniable breakout stars of this movie are without a doubt going to be relative newcomers Daisy Ridley as Rey (the scavenger) and John Boyega as Finn (the former Storm Trooper). The only problem is this movie is coming out too late for me to vote for them as breakthrough stars of the year (not that this movie is concerned with critical praise). The “movie stars in the making” are fun, charming, and nail all their scenes together with enough chemistry to make me genuinely cry. Both hold the screen’s attention from start to finish and seem to have a firm grasp on their characters and where they fit into this larger movie universe. You never “miss” the veterans, because these new ones work so well together.
The benefit of having such well-developed new core characters is the fact that which allows them to show flourishes with the details they add and clearly let the characters relationships take center stage—that and the action, which is pretty great. Clearly talk about this movie needing to have weight and not just be a digital effects orgy was something Abrams took to heart. Creatures feel real (way less CGI-heavy than the prequels), and the ships have a weight that adds to the excitement of the chases. Best of all, the fight scenes all work because they are BOTH well executed AND have emotional stakes. This is literally the only 2+ hour action movie I haven’t gotten impatient in all year. You care who wins, and death and destruction doesn’t feel arbitrary or gratuitous. Oh, and with the exception of a couple of concerning blue lights towards the beginning, J.J. Abrams has gotten help for his lens flare obsession and seems to be in full recovery. Thank goodness.
In fact, the movie looks great. It’s closer in appearance to the first three films, rather than the ugly CGI look of the prequels. Planets are interesting and lived-in. From the moment we meet Rey, living on a desert planet, we understand a lot about who she is and where she comes from, which is only built on. Storm troopers have been “upgraded” (clearly they are smarter and better shots than in the other movies), but nothing has been overdone. Most of the film finds that sweet spot between recognition and originality. This is thoughtful, crafted filmmaking that is respectful of its predecessor. Well, except for But Lupita Nyong’o, as Maz Kanata, , acting the heck out of her disguised role like the Oscar winner she is. The same can be said for Gwendoline Christie, as Captain Phasma, who stands out even though we can’t see her face. Honestly, I wish she had more to do in this movie.
The remarkable thing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens is, as someone who felt I missed the boat on this original film series, I have been totally won over. I can’t wait for the next one (although, I’m also super excited for Rogue One). As someone bummed that we only got Leia action figures in her “slave costume” (love her badass quality in that movie, hate how she’s been fetishized in that costume), I want the toys of Rey, Finn, and Poe for my office (they can sit next to my Yoda, Fozzie Bear, and Steve Rogers). In fact, the childlike giddiness I had when watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the smile that I got simply because of how fun, well-made, and thoughtful this action movie managed to be, is something I finally got from a Star Wars movie. I’ve been sold on the rich possibilities of these new movies. I’m letting the Force in this time.
Thanks, J.J. Abrams. Your movie is GREAT!
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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