The enthusiasm for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is palpable and omnipresent, a heady mixture of buzz and anticipation that comes around only once or twice a year. Then the moment arrives: 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. I got goosebumps, giddy, excited. 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, a standard compound shootout that lacks the originality that so infused the saga begun in 1983. In fact, all of the action and visual effects are surprisingly mediocre — there’s nothing here that makes us say “wow.” This is such a letdown, considering how creative the Star Wars movies have been throughout the years.
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; 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 a pilot (Oscar Isaac) to the planet Jakku to find a clue to Luke’s hideout. The aforementioned so-so compound shootout begins shortly thereafter.
Bare bones info: The heroes are Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is a local on Jakku, with an adorable droid called the BB8, and former stormtrooper 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 Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) are under-utilized in small roles.
The script by Lawrence Kasdan (Return of the Jedi), 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 to 30 years after the last chronological installment, Return of the Jedi. For what it’s worth, The Force Awakens looks and feels like it’s derived from the original trilogy, not Lucas’ more recent glossy prequels.
There are some notable surprises and good laughs (including genuinely funny moments from Han and the BB8), and some familiar faces pop up — it’s like seeing forgotten pals from high school at your 30th reunion. There is far too much left unexplained — information is deliberately not revealed that absolutely, positively should have been. The adrenaline high we want to feel as we walk out of the megaplex is instead an empty space, like, “What was that?” We shouldn’t have to wait for Episode VIII in May 2017 for answers we could have had by 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 box offices around the globe afire with around-the-clock screenings, which nonetheless lacks the ingenuity and overall quality we’ve been dreaming about for so long.