Although the prequels are a low bar, yes “The Force Awakens” is more akin in quality, scope and aesthetics to the original trilogy and much better than its woeful prequels. Say what you will about J.J. Abrams as a storyteller, but his stuff looks good.
Obviously it’s a kick to see the original cast, to say nothing of hearing that theme music again, and even seeing the tie-fighters and x-wings battling in newfound glory. It wouldn’t have worked as well if it had been a reboot with new actors in the old roles since there’s a huge nostalgia factor at work.
Although newcomers Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) all do well, cheers will erupt when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) first appear; they’re the real stars of the film, and provide most of the humor as well.
But to get more specific, few films can put a smile on your face with an opening tile crawl. Thankfully, this preamble is fairly concise, but nostalgia also softens the problems with the film, specifically it being a recycle of the original in many respects, including more amazing coincidences that allow for the narrative to continue.
After a disturbing start that shows the Stromtroopers are basically the heartless SS of a Nazi Empire (now called The First Order), they once again prove to be the worst soldiers available, bumbling fools incapable of hitting anything that needs to be missed for the sake of the story.
Described as garbage and all but forgotten, the Millennium Falcon amazingly fares crazy well against multiple and more-advanced ships with a new pilot and a green soldier who barely knows how to work its clunky guns. Use of the Dark Side is spotty at best, jettisoned right when it would be a better idea to just choke someone from across the room. Outright monsters destroy every bad guy in their way, but decide to simply capture the good guys and allow ample time for escape. And don’t forget the grade-school level exposition, over-explaining every little connection and character motivation.
THERE BE SPOILERS, HERE!
But could anything live up to “Star Wars: The Hype-Machine”? In 2013, both Carrie Fisher (General Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) supposedly had begun a vigorous regimen of diet, exercise and stunt training to prepare for their roles. It turned out to be more mere hype, since neither do more than stand around and chat for their scant screen time (with Hamill doing less than even that).
But can fans admit that it falls short? I’ve seen way too many perfect A scores for “The Force Awakens”, which tells me no; it’s too hard to separate yourself from the source material and the original experience to admit that “The Force Awakens” is just another in a series of J.J. Abrams’ redo’s.
“Super 8” was basically “E.T. The Extra Terrible”.
“Star Trek Into Darkness” was “The Wrath of Khan Again.”
And now “The Force Awakens” is a “Star Wars” retread, complete with a doe-eyed hero stuck on a planet of sand waiting for something more… indispensable Resistance intel hidden in a droid to keep it from the Empire… good guys captured and tortured by the bad guys for their knowledge of the intel… the bad guys have a ship the size of a moon that can wipe out whole planets with a single shot… the Jedi have vanished to the point that most consider them myth… the apprentice of a famous Jedi serves in the evil empire while he struggles with the dual nature of the Force… a father-figure is killed by light sabre wielded by someone he used to trust… the big bad Death Star-ish ship blown up by small x-wings that fire on an obvious target out in the open… all culminating with a new apprentice in need of training approaching a seasoned Jedi Master.
We waited 30 years for the same basic story?
Hmpf. At least it looked good and had the original cast. Without that, we’d all be crying ripoff.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Writing Credits: Lawrence Kasdan (written by) & J.J. Abrams (written by) and Michael Arndt (written by), George Lucas (characters)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill , Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, John Boyega, Kenny Baker, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Greg Grunberg, Christina Chong, Simon Pegg
Rich Bonaduce is Vice President of the Utah Film Critics Association, co-host of “Critical Mass,” a Salt Lake-based movie-review show, and a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com. Read more of his reviews at thereelplace.com.