The first two Star Wars movies (Episodes IV and V for you Star Wars plebeians) are two of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy movies of all time. These films are well directed, well acted, and carefully written; not to mention the absolute masterpiece that is John William’s original score. Granted, some of the action sequences have not aged well over time (looking at you, Obi-Wan vs Vader lightsaber duel), these films never fail to produce an exciting viewing experience for audiences of all tastes and preferences.
Now, enter Lucas’s prequel films. These films shared none of the things that people loved about the original trilogy. The characters are not lovable or interesting, the story is not well thought out, the actors are forced to awkwardly act out scenes in giant green screen rooms where they must use the power of imagination to see whats actually happening around their character, and the action sequences (while pretty) evolve to resemble odd boy band dance sequences than life threatening lightsaber duels.
These things have been said many times by other critics of the films, I do not claim to be the first one to think of them. However, I will say, that I applaud George Lucas for trying something new. The only thing that resembled his original trilogy were the characters they shared, which was more fan service than anything else. The prequels showed a side of the story the original trilogy did not. While this proved to sometimes be a bad idea (C-SPAN style political debates), it was creative and tried to make carve its own path into the Star Wars legacy.
J.J. Abrams’ film does not try to do this. While I won’t go as far to say that it’s a direct copy, it does not feel new. Abrams played it safe for fear of producing another Phantom Menace and dooming the new trilogy. The sad thing is, we have plenty of examples to show us that Abrams is creative, so why the conservative direction with his new film?
As I said before, this film is not a direct copy. However, that will not save it points when it comes to how picky I am about creativity. This film shares many of the major plot elements of the first film. This leads to a very predictable plot line, and I hate predictability. The story also contains 2 major conveniences that are not addressed or explained really in any way. The reason I take issue with this is that the film would have been about 30 minutes long had these elements of the story not been present, but Abrams needed to fill a 2 hour run time.
Before it sounds like I hated this movie, I do think this story brought plenty of new elements to the franchise that are great. Namely the characters. But, this element of the story would not be redeeming without…
The actors in this film are excellent. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Issac all bring exciting new characters to the franchise. Because of these performances, I was invested in everything that happened to these characters, be they good or bad. I am excited to see where the next films go because I love these characters, not because of the story itself. Adam Driver could potentially bring the franchise its first “human” antagonist with real human emotions, motives, and problems.
The older actors (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, etc) are good when they are present. Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew blow everyone else out of the water in terms of screen time and line, but I will not complain since Han Solo is probably my favorite original trilogy character.
I took off half a point because some of the minor characters seemed a bit silly, namely Domhall Gleeson as General Hux. He delivered all of his lines with an awkward intensity. It were as if Abrams told him to deliver his lines as if Hitler were an awkward highschooler trying to impress his classmates. Also, as a huge Game of Thrones fan, I was disappointed in Gwendoline Christie’s role as I’m sure many GoT watchers will be. The same is true for Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke. While I’m sure he will play a larger role in the coming films, his character was very underwhelming compared to his previous motion tracking roles.
Abrams once again proves that he knows how to film sci-fi films. Even though much of this film’s scenery is filmed on location, I felt as if I were in another world. Abrams reverts the franchise back to practical effects rather than the CGI bullshit that plagued the prequels. The action sequences are epic and easy to follow. That being said, I took points off because there are some CGI elements to this film that stand out amidst the real footage and scenery.
I know, I know; you’re asking yourself, “How the hell can this guy rate a John Williams film at a 6 out of 10 after calling his previous film a masterpiece?” Well, Skeptical Reader, allow me to explain myself. When a composer establishes himself as a master of film scoring, I expect nothing but masterful film scores from him. As bad as the prequels may be, Williams provided us with some of his best work through them. When I hear d works like “Duel of the Fates,” “Battle of Heroes,” or “Imperial March” for the first time, I had stop and think to myself, “Damn. That is a great piece of music.” Nothing of that sort exists in The Force Awakens. The only times I felt myself noticing the score are the times when Williams uses elements from songs he’s already famous for. Does this mean the music is bad? Absolutely not. It means that the excellent music that exists in this film was composed for the first few films and is just being rehashed.
X-Factor: 9/10 Daniel Craig Cameo
Presumably in an effort to have some fun while filming the atrocity that was Spectre (which I wrote about in my last review), actor Daniel Craig waltzed over to the Star Wars studio during one of his breaks to make one of the greatest cameo appearances of all time. If you have not seen the film, I will only say that you need to be familiar with Craig’s voice in order to spot him. If you have seen it and have no idea what I’m talking about, he’s the guy that is “forced” to drop his gun at the door on his way off set.
See? Despite my constant bickering and nit-picking, Star Wars: The Force Awakens still ended up with a pretty decent score. I may sound bitter and cynical about the film (or, maybe even all the time), but I can promise that I truly am excited to what the next films in the series will bring us. I am a Star Wars fan through and through, and I can never truly hate one of these films, even it is plagued by a CGI monstrosity that babbles nonsense and is allowed to exist throughout the entirety of a film.