Spoiler-Free Force Awakens Review

fa1I’ll give it a little while before I launch into a ‘proper’ review of A Force Awakens, but here’s my thoughts about the film, spoiler-free…

While I enjoyed the film, my fears were realised, sadly. Positives were the new, young cast (particularly Daisy Ridley who was amazing and stole the film), and a generally successful Star Wars ‘feel’. Indeed this rather surprised me, as I expected the returning cast from the Original Trilogy would steal the show but they don’t. Regards negatives, the main one for me was the script, which really was just fan fiction, a sort of Star Wars Greatest Hits, with all sorts of implausible coincidences that piled up and increasingly irritated me. I sense the hand of JJ Abrams in this, as his Star Trek reboot had similar failings. Its like these new film-makers think that if they keep up a relentless pace and feel-good factor, audiences will just mindlessly accept all sorts of implausible tosh.

I do suspect all the hype and praise this film is getting in reviews is based on the overwhelming sense of relief from people that its not as bad as the prequels, and that there may be a reappraisal when they see it again on Blu-ray and the plot-holes start to surface. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll warm to it a bit more over time. I do think its a good Star Wars film, but its not quite up there with the Original Trilogy (it does certainly give Jedi a run for its money).

So yeah, pretty good. If I was giving it stars out of five, it’d be a solid 3.5. There’s just something irresistible about seeing all that iconic imagery again and at times it is quite clever and sophisticated in how it depicts that imagery (one shot of a felled AT-AT in the dunes is lovely). I do hope better films lie ahead though. My one fear is that the success of this film will make Disney and Lucasfilm think they can just carry on with the Star Wars Greatest Hits thing rather than give us something genuinely new. Time will see.


11 thoughts on “Spoiler-Free Force Awakens Review

  1. gregory moss

    Nice one, Ian! I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts on this. Pretty much agree all round. And like you, I was happily surprised by how good the new characters actually are (totally unexpected). Looking forward to the next one.

    1. Yeah I do think Rey could turn out to be the most interesting (and best-acted) character of all the Star Wars films if they treat her right over the next few films. There is so much promise there and she’s easily the highlight of the whole film.

  2. Matthew mckinnon

    Yeah, same here. And that’s quickly become the consensus amongst more discerning reviewers, as well. Startling similarities to Star Trek 2009.

    I found the first half hour great, then I sagged very very badly in the middle. And from then on the OT characters were poorly served by basically not having moved on at all – whilst at the same time constantly harking back to the serious shit that had gone down in the last few decades that had led us to this point. When very serious big things happened they had no weight whatsoever for me. Nor did the final scene.

    The new faces shine, and it’s nice to see the familiar iconography (the Falcon etc) onscreen again. But the sad thing I take away from the film is that, just as we never really needed to see the back-story explored in the sequels, nor do we really need to see the further adventures of the OT characters. But I guess that needed to be demonstrated to be understood.

    1. ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ springs to mind. Its funny, how all those years after Jedi I always thought wouldn’t it be great to see Luke, Han, Leia and company years later? When the prequels turned out so poor I felt even more that what Star Wars needed was that old familiar cast, that the magic was in that chemistry rather than the effects and spectacle. The Force Awakens may bring back the old cast but doesn’t bring back the chemistry, it all feels awkward and forced as it keeps the characters separate. There’s no tension or chemistry between Han and Leia, Luke is out of the mix, R2 D2 kept under a cloth and C-3PO reduced to exposition- a tin can literally explaining the plot. Its crazy how they were all wasted. I’m rather of the opinion that JJ Abrams is something of a lucky hack, his career almost authorised plagiarism. He doesn’t understand the ‘soul’ of Star Wars just as he didn’t understand the ‘soul’ of Star Trek- its all objects, ticked boxes to him. As you say, there was no weight or pathos to the final scenes. Its just images, pretty pictures without substance, no emotional core.

      Very frustrating, but at least he’s done directing these now.

  3. I shall be the voice of dissent here and say I really enjoyed it. Obviously it’s better than the prequels and it’s better than it could’ve been — both of which are true statements but are damning with faint praise! More than that, though, I thought they did a good job furthering the universe. They clearly decided to focus on the new characters, which I guess is why they’re better developed and the older ones aren’t given as much time. That said, I thought Han and Leia worked fairly well, but the droids are definitely wasted, and obviously Luke’s been held back for the future.

    J.J. Abrams is a bit of a hack, though. When he does well I feel like he’s got lucky rather than really knows what he’s doing.

    1. I guess we have to give the new films time to get their own voice once the baggage of the Original Trilogy is left behind (no more Leia, R2D2 or C3PO hopefully although Chewie and Luke seem to have more ahead of them).

      Certainly I’m more optimistic for the future, but the writing was bloody lazy. Was the Starkiller zapping planets in other systems lightyears away, and how were they near enough to be seen in the rebels skyline? Hokiest science I ever saw in a Star Wars flick. Yes they are fantasies but Lucas always gave them some grounding of reality.

      At least they named Alderaan in Star Wars, I hadn’t a clue what planets were being zapped so how could I care? Thats a sign of lazy writing and editing a film way too tight.

      1. I can’t believe they’re done with Leia or the droids. She’s still in charge of the Resistance, after all, and the droids are popular. A fuller role would suit them better, though.

        I do agree that the total lack of information about the Republic (who it represented, how it functioned, why it secretly funded the Resistance rather than the Resistance just being its army or something) before its destruction was pretty shocking. OK, some of that is arguably ‘expanded universe’-level material for die-hard fans only, but there was definitely more needed for it to make sense and have impact within the film.

  4. Its funny, all that bitching about Lucas burying the prequels in politics and Republic Senate nonsense, and now I’m moaning about a lack of exposition. But it is a failing of the film; as Matt said, theres no real weight to the events. We never understand what the New Order is, or even the resistance for that matter (resistance to what? Isn’t the New Order the nominal resistance against the Republic?). We knew where we stood with the Empire and the Rebellion.

    It all feels very slight, very hazy. Very Abrams. Surely someone on Jakku could have commented on the situation to give some perspective. Fears about the New Order or perhaps wishing for the good old days of the Empire even.

  5. Matthew McKinnon

    I think it’s worth noting here that I went in hoping to enjoy it, and didn’t set out with a forensic or analytical approach.

    I’m having to see it again today, as my father is visiting for Christmas and he hasn’t seen it yet. I mentioned that it was fun but that it had some problems, and he rather haughtily said, ‘well I’m just going to see it to ENJOY it’, as though any criticisms are irrelevant.

    That kind of highlighted my main problem with the film [and with Abrams in general]: I DO go in hoping to enjoy it. And for half an hour I really was. But from the point where Han & Chewie are reintroduced, and we take a weird boring detour to meet the New Yoda, it wasn’t so much that I was analysing it as I watched and thus blocking out any spontaneous pleasure, it’s that the compound problems the film has [what? why is that happening? why are we hearing so much exposition? why doesn’t that universe-changing event have a deservedly massive impact – even within the film?] were gnawing away at that enjoyment to the point where I was… not enjoying it. It was a spontaneous lack of pleasure.

    I feel this is something I’m going to have to explain in a lot of conversations over the next few weeks.

    1. I’ve been having such conversations myself this past week (although to be fair, a number of people are agreeing with me), and I too watched the film a second time, in which my same problems with the film irked me again. I just think its Abrams going too far to ‘give the fans what they want’. The Starkiller destroying planets in other star systems is the same as characters teleporting across star systems in his Star Trek- it is something that serves the plot but its patently absurd. Unfortunately with todays undemanding/ unreasoning audiences he can get away with it.

      Force Awakens is not a bad film, but neither is it a great one (it COULD have been, had it not taken so many liberties). Its just basking in the overwhelming relief of fans pleased its not like the prequels and non-fans who are content with the dumb spectacle. We get the films we deserve- and as this film has made over $890 million inside of a week, I fear we are going to get more of them. Afterall, plenty of people even still seem to like the prequels anyway.

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