First the good news — this is a worthy successor to the original trilogy. JJ Abrams understood what it was about the original films that made them most broadly appealing — characters you could root for, a story line that was easy to follow, and action sequences in unusual settings. And robots.
On these metrics, the movie delivers. Some beloved old characters return, and are joined by (mostly) appealing new ones. It’s good to see Harrison Ford finding his inner Solo again, instead of playing HARRISON FORD MOVIE STAR. The newer actors are good, too, especially Daisy Ridley as Rey — a feminist heroine who wears pants, and sometimes the pants). There’s even a new robot, BB8, who successfully straddles the line between R2D2 dougthiness and terminal Ewok cutesiness. And there are enough “Easter Egg” references to the prior movies to please everyone from the casual fan to the total geek.
Abrams made a good decision to use hand-built sets and models instead of relying on CG for many of the action sequences. This helps to keep those action sequences in human scale — they never overwhelm the picture.
My reservations are less about the film that is actually on the screen — a marvelous piece of entertainment — than the better film that might have been.
The plot, for example, is not so much straightforward as simplistic. it’s a significant improvement over the hot mess story lines of the prequels, but for a true Star Wars fan, it’s overly predictable.
For me, though, what the film was really missing was — George Lucas. Creating alien landscapes is more than just designing strange-looking buildings. Lucas had a gift for inserting the small detail that turned an alien landscape into something both more comprehensible, and yet immeasurably stranger — the double moons of Tatooine, the ice planet so cold people froze as they walked, the thousand-points-of-holographic-light Parliament of the old republic the underwater cities of Naboo, the diner with the roller-skating robot waiters, the hoverboards in the fire pit where Anakin and Obi-Wan have their fateful encounter. There’s none of that Lucas genius in the new movie.
This movie can best be seen as high-quality fan fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s already making boatloads of money, and filming on the second installment of the proposed trilogy will begin soon. But, without Lucas’s mythic imagination, it lacks the emotional resonance of the first two films. I wonder if, had these films been first, we would still been talking about “Star Wars” all these many years later.
These quibbles aside, though, I highly recommend seeing the film. But see it soon. It’s that rare thing in the modern cinema landscape — a film which which really is better seen with a large and enthusiastic group. If you wait too long, you might find all the surprises in the film are spoiled by the kids in the audience who have seen it 10 times already.
Weird Fact: Luke Hamill is now a year older than Alec Guiness was when he appeared in the original Star Wars film. Sigh.