Unfortunately, this is a film that cannot be “reviewed” by examining the proceedings of the plot. To do so would give up spoilers almost from the beginning, so I’ll have to give you some ideas about it from a wider vantage.
Director George Lucas was on Charlie Rose the other day relating that he thought the Star Wars idea had been worked into the ground, which is why he sold it to JJ Abrams who thought he could resurrect it to a new generation of viewers. Of course, the generation thing would be about right since the original Star Wars IV opened in 1977. I was a resident at NYU and I stood in line like everyone else to see it at an uptown Manhattan theater. It’s been almost 40 years since the iconic first episode. The five others have been almost anticlimactic.
There really was a new generation waiting to see a resurgence of a franchise that unexpectedly changed the nature of how movies were made. Originally, Lucas was so sure the film would be a flop that he didn’t attend the premiere; went to Hawaii on vacation. The producers fully expected a mega-flop and were working on how to dump it overseas. To everyone’s surprise, Star Wars exploded at the box office and became the first film that made actors rich from the sale of franchised toys and baubles, more so than their salaries.
The problem was that just about every possible previous plot line was previously squeezed till it bled. It was unclear to Lucas what Abrams could do to make it fresh again.
The answer is “not much”.
Sold-out seats in every Pittsburgh theater notwithstanding, I was quite suspicious that this re-tread was not going to be terribly satisfying. The critics were kind on “Rotten Tomatoes” (94%), but I hasten to add that many of these critics were toddlers when the first Star Wars hit the street, so it was more or less a new phenomenon for them. In fact, this iteration is a variation on the original theme of “Star Wars IV: A new Hope” (1977) with upgraded characters plying the same basic premise. A new, upgraded cantina scene (filled with Republican Presidential Candidates), an upgraded Dearth Vader filling out a newly styled black outfit, a similar plot- saving the universe from an upgraded “death Star”. Along with a lot of plot spoilers I can’t tell you about.
JJ Abrams is a very strong director and has done good work along very popular happy themes (Lost, Super 8, Mission Impossible III and two new Star Trek films). He has a knack for bland entertainment, not so much for deep soul-searching films that leave the viewer exhausted at the end of the film. He is not Alejandro Iñárritu (The Revenant), Joel Cohen (No Country for Old Men), Ridley Scott (Bladerunner) or Quinton Tarantino (Pulp Fiction et al). His talent is not as deep, but spread out wider.
I think the main draw of the film is to see the three principal characters; Princess Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker appear almost 40 years older. Myself, I was not terribly enthusiastic at seeing anyone, even me 40 years on. They all definitely looked old, and somewhat out of place with the rest of the youthful characters. Anachronisms put in place for the next generation to gawk at and remark how they appeared pretty much rode hard & put away wet.
JJ Abrams famously said he wanted to use more actual sets for the film and less CGI, but that would be expensive out of proportion to budget so most of the film is CGI with some real (leftover) desert dunes scenes from Tunisia. The entire film was carefully constructed toward the inevitable sequel, including some cliffhangers. Many, many questions from the previous series remain un-answered with this film.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not a failure, certainly not at the box office, but it isn’t nearly the blinding film apocalypse it’s made out to be by some. It will make a lot of money from a new generation of viewers that applaud the “Real Housewives of…….”, but it is not “Avatar” or “Titanic” by any means. The plot is a clone of a previous plot; the dialogue is silly enough that in previous sagas all the actors complained bitterly about it. The new characters are not as fresh as what came before.
I found “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” just OK, even in 3-D. I remain unimpressed at the massive hype surrounding it.
I give it three of five hoarse Dick Cheney Darth Vader voicings.