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Reviews Fly In For ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Reviews Fly In For 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

The embargo is over, the first reviews are in… and the reaction in general has been thoroughly positive. However, Star Wars: The Force Awakens hasn’t blown everyone away entirely.

Variety’s Justin Chang hailed the “welcome surge of energy” but complained of a “thin, derivative story”:

Reinvigorating the franchise with a welcome surge of energy, warmth and excitement after the misbegotten cycle of prequels released between 1999 and 2005, incoming writer-director JJ Abrams seems to have had the original three films firmly in mind when he embarked on this monumental new undertaking, structured as a series of clever if sometimes wobbly callbacks to a trilogy that captivated a global audience and helped cement Hollywood’s blockbuster paradigm. Still, the reassuring familiarity of Abrams’ approach has its limitations: Marvelous as it is to catch up with Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the gang, fan service takes priority here over a somewhat thin, derivative story that, despite the presence of two appealing new stars, doesn’t exactly fire the imagination anew.

In the Hollywood Reporter, critic Todd McCarthy has a similar mix of praise and reservations

The fundamental touchstones of George Lucas’ original creation remain, in director J.J. Abrams’ hands there is a shift in tone that brings the material closer to the feel of a Steven Spielberg film. Specifically, into an Indiana Jones realm, which is mostly, but not entirely, to the good.

In the UK, critics have tended to plump for the ballistically positive. In the Daily Telegraph, critic Robbie Collin confessed to “crying three times during the film” in his five star review of an “addictively bold and wildly exciting” film:

Unlike Lucas’s prequel trilogy, this is no bewildering science-fiction opus, but a punchy, personal fantasy adventure that connects to the three original films in much the same way as, say, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader does to CS Lewis’s original Lion-Witch-Wardrobe knockout combo.

In the Times (paywall), Kate Muir also gave The Force Awakens a five-star review, saying it was “exactly what we were hoping for”:

Phew! The Force is resoundingly with JJ Abrams’s cracking reboot of Star Wars. This seventh movie is a humongous piece of cinema — all that a sequel should be and more: a nostalgic homage to the 1977 original, coupled with intergalactic, warp-speed, panoramic blockbuster action, and a new heroine in the form of Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

And the Guardian’s own Peter Bradshaw gave the film a maximum rating too, suggesting it was “exciting, spectacular and seductively innocent”:

The Force Awakens re-awoke my love of the first movie and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. There are very few films which leave me facially exhausted after grinning for 135 minutes, but this is one. And when Han Solo and Chewie come on, I had a feeling in the cinema I haven’t had since I was 16: not knowing whether to burst into tears or into applause.

The New York Times is a touch more cautious than the UK papers, but Manohla Dargis’ review is generally admiring:

Despite the prerelease hype, it won’t save the world, not even Hollywood, but it seamlessly balances cozy favorites — Harrison Ford, ladies and gentlemen — and new kinetic wows along with some of the niceties that went missing as the series grew into a phenomenon, most crucially a scale and a sensibility that is rooted in the human. It has the usual toy-store-ready gizmos and critters, but it also has appealingly imperfect men and women whose blunders and victories, decency and goofiness remind you that a pop mythology like Star Wars needs more than old gods to sustain it.

Veteran critic Joe Morgenstern, in the Wall Street Journal, is equally approving, and draws attention to the film’s cross-generation appeal:

Star Wars is once again in sequel mode — it’s been so long since the original cast has been on screen that this one could be called a postquel — and the franchise has roared back with full force. Disney, the new proprietor, and JJ Abrams, the director, haven’t diluted the appeal of this space opera for the ages. Far from it, Star Wars: The Force Awakens flatters old and new audiences alike, and straddles generations with aplomb.

Not surprisingly, Entertainment Weekly goes even further in its approbation, asserting the film “recapture[d] that magic” of the original trilogy:

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens delivers exactly what you want it to: rollicking adventure wrapped in epic mythology, a perfect amount of fan service that fires your geekiest synapses, and a just-right cliffhanger ending that paves the way for future installments. In a way, Abrams has accomplished exactly what he did with 2009’s Star Trek. He took a worshiped pop-culture franchise with a rabid legion of disciples, treated it with respect, and made it matter again.

On the other hand, the Village Voice is more circumspect, with critic Amy Nicholson suggesting the film “trips over its own feet” occasionally in a “déjà vu sequel”:

Jar Jar has been banished, his creator politely strong-armed offstage. Now a new J.J. — J.J. Abrams — commands our attention. His first commandment: Scrap the nonsense. “I thought it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo,” grunts Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who’s never brooked any bullshit. Star Wars: The Force Awakens steers the franchise back to its popcorn origins. It’s not a Bible; it’s a bantamweight blast. And that’s just as it should be: a good movie, nothing more.

Over at the Den of Geek, Ryan Lambie is impressed, if not blown away.

The Force Awakens has just the kind of giddiness a Star Wars film desperately needs. It helps that there’s such an infectious chemistry between the young cast. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver are all impossible to fault. The scenes between them crackle with energy, humour and tension, whether they’re meeting as new-found friends or bitter enemies … As a sequel and an event, The Force Awakens does everything you could ask of it, and maybe a little bit more. The Star Wars saga is nearing its 40th anniversary now, but this new entry proves that, as a pure, grin-inducing cinema experience, it’s still got it where it counts.

And at Ain’t It Cool News, reviewer Nordling speaks for the cautious fanboy, expressing concern that the franchise magic may overshadow the new film:

While the cast does terrific work, and while there are certainly some wonderful moments that are reminiscent of the original films, The Force Awakens cannot reach the lofty heights of its predecessors, and that’s perfectly fine. Like far too many franchise films today, The Force Awakens is too invested in planting seeds for future movies instead of telling its present story succinctly. With convoluted plot threads scattered haphazardly throughout, the movie becomes frustrating, because the new characters and old favorites are honestly interesting and all the actors are invested, including Harrison Ford, who steps back into the role of Han Solo with authority and grace … JJ Abrams is having fun with this set of trains, but he seems to be enjoying smashing them together instead of keeping them on the track. The Force Awakens is entertaining, but I do not believe it will capture the imagination the way the original films did.



by Andrew Pulver

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