The enthusiasm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is palpable and omnipresent, a supreme mixture of buzz and anticipation that only comes around once or twice a year. Then the moment comes: The lights go down, the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo glimmers, we’re told in blue that “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” and boom! John Williams’ famous theme plays as the title and scrolling text set the stage for what’s to come. I felt goose bumps, giddiness, excitement. Star Wars is back!
Sadly, the exhilaration doesn’t last. You know Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in trouble from the opening action scene, which is a standard compound shoot-out that’s notably lacking originality. In fact, all of the action and visual effects are surprisingly mediocre — there’s nothing here that makes us say wow, which is a flaw given how creative the Star Wars movies have historically been.
Director J.J. Abrams ,who brilliantly reinvented the Star Trek franchise, has been characteristically mum on the plot, so I will share little more than what the opening scroll reveals (stop reading now if you don’t want to know; guaranteed this entire review is spoiler free): Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last living Jedi, has vanished. The villainous First Order wants Luke dead so it can reclaim the galaxy from the Republic. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), leader of the Resistance for the Republic, sends pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to the planet Jakku to obtain a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. The aforementioned so-so compound shootout begins shortly thereafter.
Bare bones info for you: The heroes are Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is a local on Jakku with an adorable droid called BB-8, and a former stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega). Later, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) join the fight. The villains are the unimposing Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Also of note: Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker return as C-3PO and R2-D2, respectively, and actresses Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) are unrecognizable in small roles.
The script by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back), Abrams and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) pays homage to the original trilogy while taking the saga’s story in a bold new direction. This is similar to what Abrams did with the two Star Trek movies he directed, and the familiarity is comforting. Additionally, the storyline goes in a logical direction that could plausibly occur 25-30 years after the series’ last chronological installment, Return of the Jedi, and for what it’s worth The Force Awakens looks and feels like it’s derived from the original trilogy, not George Lucas’ more recent glossy prequels.
There are some notable surprises and good laughs (including genuinely funny moments from Han and BB-8), and some familiar faces pop up to engender a smile. However, far too much is unexplained, and the biggest flaw of all is the ending, which is unsatisfying. Simply put, information is deliberately not revealed that absolutely positively should have been shared, which leaves the viewer feeling puzzled when leaving the theater rather than on an adrenaline high. No one wants to be scratching their head walking out of Star Wars, and we shouldn’t have to wait for Episode VIII in May 2017 for answers that we could easily have now.
So temper those high expectations, folks. In its totality Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a bit of a letdown, a movie ready to light the box office on fire with around-the-clock screenings that lacks the ingenuity and overall quality we’re rightfully expecting.