Movie Review: The Force Awakens

The following is a spoiler-free take on THE FORCE AWAKENS:
In a nutshell, in typical JJ Abrams fashion, Disney’s first outing in the STAR WARS ‘verse is heavy on explosions and visual effects but light on character and plot. Characters are flat, and come and go so quickly from the scene that it’s difficult to find anyone to identify with. Poe Dameron made a promising first impression and would have made a wonderful heroic character, but he never got the chance. Where in the original trilogy, the three main characters spent the entire second act working together towards a common goal as a unified team, in THE FORCE AWAKENS, Poe, Rey, and Finn never quite seemed to find their rhythm and spent more time wandering off doing their own thing than building a heroic team.

I felt adrift and disengaged from the film until Han Solo showed up. At last! Here was someone I had an emotional attachment to. Unfortunately, the old, familiar characters we know and love likewise seemed to wander aimlessly, as though even they were unsure what they were doing in the movie. Solo was in an entirely different story that seemed more interesting than the one the young heroes were pursuing. Yes, there was a unifying goal, but by the second act even the bad guy got bored with it and moved on to something else.

 
mcquarrie_earlystarwars_520It took a while for me to realize why elements of the movie felt so familiar. Abrams made the movie Lucas had originally intended Star Wars to be. I guess because I avoided all blogs, articles and potential spoilers, I didn’t realize that the inspiration for the story line was Lucas’s first draft of Star Wars in which the Luke/Leia character was a warrior “princess” (Rey) and Han Solo/Obi Wan Kenobi was an older mentor guiding her on her quest. Not only that, the look of THE FORCE AWAKENS was drawn from Ralph McQuarrie’s original concept art from before the first actor was cast or the first set built.
 
Kudos to Disney for going back to the very beginning. I give that nod to early STAR WARS lore an “A” for effort.
 
Lucasfilm veteran, Lawrence Kasdan worked on the script and co-produced. Lucas/Spielberg protegee Kathleen Kennedy was one of the producers attached to the project.
 
In the back of my mind, I knew all that.
 
Was it good? Did I enjoy it? Did it live up to its hype?
 
Much of it was predictable, but I enjoyed it. Nothing could quite live up to this level of hype. I cheered when old familiar faces popped up. The story was too fragmented and at times seemed to ramble, while subplot and backstory were much more interesting and should have had more screen time. Some old friends were under utilized (R2D2, Luke Skywalker.) So were some new friends for that matter (Poe Dameron, Captain Phasma.) Some plot points defied logic.
It is the kind of movie you want to see more than once to go back and catch the subtle nuances, now that you know what’s going on and who the players are. I’m hoping to find it tighter and better crafted on second viewing.
 
Star Wars fans will not be disappointed. Action/adventure fans will not be disappointed. Personally, I didn’t feel the ending satisfied. It felt more like the second book/movie in a trilogy than the first. It was almost like Abrams said, “Hey, we’ve got two hours of material now. Time to wrap. Where can we stop for now?”
 
In short, Abrams was marginally more respectful of the Star Wars franchise than he was the Star Trek franchise. Dialogue was snappy and sassier than the traditionally stilted Star Wars speech patterns. Character development was minimal and it was hard to get emotionally invested in the new characters. There are too many questions unanswered, leaving fans scratching their heads and trying to play catch up before the end of the first act.
 
As a die-hard Jed-head, I have a love-hate relationship with THE FORCE AWAKENS. As a writer, I am by turns glad I didn’t have to write it and critical of sections that seemed like the writers had no idea where to go from there and fired off special effects hoping the audience wouldn’t notice the man behind the curtain.
I would still like to see a Joss Whedon interpretation of the Star Wars legend, though I feel JJ Abrams actually considered the fans expectations of the newest Star Wars movie. I can’t help but think Whedon could have done a better job and told a more satisfying story, given his penchant for effectively balancing character development, intrigue, and heart-pounding action, a balancing act Abrams has yet to perfect.

THE FORCE AWAKENS is an action-packed romp, but it lacks the elusive spark found in the other films in the franchise.