A Spoiler Free Review Of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

You'll be happy, Star Wars fans. And, don't worry, no spoilers here.

Cheiwie Solo

Like many, many others apparently, I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the theater this weekend. To be honest, this was one of the first times I’ve seen a movie during opening weekend in quite sometime, mostly because I tend to prefer to wait until the crowds have thinned out somewhat and I’m not sharing space with a theater full of teenagers and such. Nothing against watching a movie with others, mind you, just that I tend to prefer to be able to watch a movie in an environment where I can actually pay attention to what’s going on on-screen without so many distractions. I’ve known for months, though, that this would be the exception to my general rule both because, well, it’s Star Wars and because I knew the nature of the Internet and the fact that I spend a lot of time online would mean that I’d run across spoilers if I waited too long to see a movie that, in many ways, fans like me have been waiting for since the credits started rolling on Return Of The Jedi back in the summer of 1983. So, I settled for a Noon showing on Saturday to allow the first day crowds to thin out a bit and settled in. As it turned out, the fact that it was early in the day, possibly combined with the location of the theater, combined such that the crowd wasn’t so bad (although the lines for tickets and such had grown substantially when I left after the movie was over.)

In any case, what follows is a spoiler-free version of my thoughts about the movie. Perhaps, at some point, I’ll post something more detailed discussing the plot points and such but since I knowpeople are likely to wait until the holiday week to see the movie I seemed only fair to let people discover things for themselves.

Off the top, I’ll simply repeat what I said on Twitter not too long after I left the theater, namely that this movie was everything that Star Wars fans were hoping for, and more. For understandable reasons, the prequels, which were accompanied by much of the same sort of anticipation and hype that we’ve seen over the past eighteen months or since it was announced that there would be a sequel trilogy in the wake of Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. For a lot of reasons, the prequels ended up being a disappointment for fans of the Original Trilogy and there are many who simply refuse to acknowledge that they exist. Given the disappointment that the prequels created, many fans approached the first movie of the new trilogy with a sort of nervous anticipation, although that slowly seemed to melt away as Disney and Director J.J. Abrams seemed to strategically release teasers and trailers that hinted at what we could expect in the movie. What we saw looked good, in some cases, very good. Of course, trailers have disappointed in the past so there was reason to be skeptical.

Given all of this, and the fact that he was seeking to add on to a saga that has been a pop culture phenomenon for nearly four decades now, J.J. Abrams was faced with the difficult task of creating a movie that both told a new story and did it in a way that fit into the overall Star Wars mythos in a way that the prequels never did notwithstanding the fact that they were made by the man who created the original trilogy. With some minor qualifications, I can say that he succeeded masterfully and did so in a way that sets the Star Wars story off in a new direction that still manages to maintain the overall themes that George Lucas set out to tell so many decades ago. There is, of course, plenty of “fan service” in the form of dialogue and scenes that hearken back to the original trilogy, there are the space battles and the Obi-Wan Kenobi references to The Force that largely ignore the “midicholrians” of the prequel. There are droids on a mission, and Stormtroopers. And, of course, there’s the battle between the light and the dark that was part of the overall story of all six movies.

Looking ahead to the future, the story seems to me to be well-set in the hands of a new set of heroes, and it was great to see them interact with the our old heroes from the original trilogy. The first glimpse of Han Solo and Chewbacca on screen, which had already been revealed in a trailer released earlier this year, was as rewarding as fans would have hoped it would be, as was the sight of seeing the Millennium Falcon in action again. Another element from the original films that was back was the humor, which often seemed to be lacking from prequels that often seemed to take themselves way too seriously at times, or present humor in the form of a character who shall not be named that quickly became perhaps one of the most hated characters in movie history. Indeed, one of the things about the original movies was the fact that they were fun in addition to being action-packed. The Force Awakens recaptures all of that, and more, and it’s going to please hard-core fans just as much as it delights new fans.

Speaking of the future, things seem to me to be well in hand with the new cast that has been added to take up the story where Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher left it. Daisy Ridley’s performance as Rey was quite good, and her character clearly looks to be one that will be at the center of the rest of the trilogy, especially since her origins remain something of a mystery. John Boyega, who plays Finn, the renegade Stormtrooper already identified in trailers, gives an interesting depth to the formerly faceless soldiers of the Empire/First Order and the question of just how loyal they might be in the end. Oscar Isaac plays Poe Damerson, the hot-shot pilot of the new trilogy, and does so in a way that is reminiscent of certain other characters from previous films, but in a way that makes him a different type of fighter than we saw during the Rebellion era. Finally, there’s Adam Driver as the new “big bad,” or at least the most prominent agent of the bad guys in the movie. Driver has perhaps the most on-screen experience of all the members of the new cast, and he brings much of that to playing a character that clearly has multiple levels of complexity that are sure to be an issue going forward.

That’s not to say the movie is perfect, of course. It could have used perhaps a little more explanation about what has happened in the thirty years since Return Of The Jedi that led to the political/military situation that we see when the movie opens. Some of that, of course, is explained in the trademark opening crawl, but there could have been perhaps a bit more detail there. Additionally, there’s a lot of mirroring of the plot of A New Hope in the film that some will likely criticize, but it’s important to note two points about that. The first, of course, is that Abrams entered this project knowing that he would have to pay some respect to fan nostalgia for the original product, so it was inevitable that there would be some duplication of elements from the original stories. The second point is that, in mirroring elements from the original movies Abrams was following a model that George Lucas had laid out in the prequels, something that was discussed in detail in an article posted all the way back in October 2014. Granted, one could argue that the prequels may not be the best guide for how to make a Star Wars film, but the point is that to the extent it is intended that the new trilogy be, in some sense, a continuation of the story laid out in the first six movies, it does make some sense that there would be some thematic similarities.

I could share much, much more about The Force Awakens but it would require discussing plot elements and, as I said, I intended this to be a spoiler-free review. As a final note, I’ll simply say that Star Wars  fans should feel confident that the story is in good hands going forward, and that even if you haven’t seen a single Star Wars movie before — and if you haven’t you really ought to fix that! — you will still find much to enjoy here.

Feel free to discuss away in the comments. I’d ask everyone to be respectful of those who haven’t seen the movie yet when it comes to the big spoilers — you know which ones I mean — at the very least by using a “Spoiler Alert” warning before you reveal anything.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Popular Culture, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. David in KC says:

    Agree, it was good, and I recommend it for fans and non-fans alike.

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    A very good sequel. I have some issues–which I’m sure to discuss later after an appropriate spoiler-free time–but over all it was a return to form. My spoiler-free criticisms, both minor and major:

    1. By the nature of the movie Abrams had to both introduce new characters, give enough of their background to have the audience connect in a meaningful way, AND establish background for main returning characters. This means that some characters got short shrifted. Poe Dameron’s character was given too little time to shine.

    2. The set up to the final resolution was rushed.

    3. The film did a GREAT job of both paying homage to the first films, which honors Lucas’s wishes of three distinct trilogies that had strong mirroring between them in terms of structure. That said, some of the mirroring/homage was a little too on the nose.

    Other than that, phenomenal film. Better than Episodes I-III, a toss-up with Return of the Jedi.

  3. Hal_10000 says:

    I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not perfect and there are some plot holes that are obviously on later reflection. The prequels — which I liked better than most — took more chances. But overall, I was happy. The movie was a lot of fun and the franchise has roared back to life once more.

    A few extra thoughts:

    1) Good on JJ for letting the actors from the original look their age. You can see the years in their faces and it makes the movie better.

    2) The new cast was uniformly good. One thing about JJ’s Trek, as much as I disliked parts of it, was that he cast it well. Ridley, Boyega, Driver and Isaac are all good additions (and Isaac has been good for a while. You should see Ex Machina).

    3) It leaves a lot of room for the next movies to grow the universe. I really hope Spoiler Warning that Rey’s ancestry isn’t what everyone speculates. Would much rather see the universe grow than fold back on itself.

    4) There’s a scene at the end that embodies the movie for me. It involved R2 and BB8 and essentially says spoiler “Here is the universe that was built; here is the new piece.”

    5) It turns out that when Disney paid $4 billion for the property, they were getting a bargain.

    Here’s hoping that Rian Johnson does a great job with Episode 8.

  4. Joe says:

    My 18-year-old son bought tickets for me and him months ago so we could share this next entry into a franchise I reared him on. A few of his friends came with. Along the lines of spoiler alerts (NO SPOILER HERE), was his friend saying he could not imagine a world in which people did not know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father and the rest of them saying, IKR. This was received wisdom for all of them before I could ever show my kids the movie. I would have had to raise my kids under remote rocks to provide them the surprise of this moment. Among last night’s movie-going crowd, only I could recall such a time and the entire life-changing paradigm shift of this revelation – hell, I remember when we all thought Luke and Leia were going to be an item – now gross.

    I think there is a bigger message here about all the things we take for granted as if it could have been no other way, totally forgetting the day when whatever turn of events was a shock to the system and a change of accepted reality.

  5. Boyd says:

    I was unimpressed with the movie. The plot seemed to make huge jumps or use facile dialogue explanations for events that needed much more elaboration. I am heartened by the new characters who will carry the plot forward.

  6. James Pearce says:

    I could share much, much more about The Force Awakens but it would require discussing plot elements

    The best movies all seem to get better on the second viewing, after the secrets of the plot have already been revealed. Watch Psycho the second time and you don’t care about what happens to the money.

    Star Wars is going to be watched and rewatched, and I seriously doubt anyone who watches it a second time will consider it “spoiled” because they know what’s going to happen.

    That said, I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but I really wish someone would “spoil” it for me. The contrivances of plot are almost always the least important thing of any movie.

  7. MBunge says:

    If this had been what we got instead of Phantom Menace, critics would have had a field day with how enormously derivative it is. I suspect they went back to the old familiar so many times, however, to wash the bad taste of the prequels out of everyone’s mouth.

    Even being an homage-a-thon, TFA is great fun and so much better made than the prequels that they could have even had Jar Jar in it and I wouldn’t have cared.

    We finally have another good Star Wars movie!

    Mike

  8. Franklin says:

    Saw it this morning and really, really liked it. One exception: Maybe I’m being crotchety, but some (not all) of the humorous moments were ill-placed. Big dramatic or action-packed moments were unnecessarily disrupted because, I guess, the timer for a one-liner had beeped.

  9. Franklin says:

    @James Pearce:

    The best movies all seem to get better on the second viewing, after the secrets of the plot have already been revealed.

    Yeah, yeah, and one of the asses over at Slate claims that people aren’t afraid of spoilers, they’re afraid of the future. I don’t buy it. I think it’s one thing to watch a movie several times and gain new understanding, and it’s completely another thing to be sitting there during the first viewing getting distracted by the thoughts of what you were told is going to happen (“oh, I don’t really have to pay full attention here, it’s probably just a set-up for X … hmm what were my friend’s exact words? blah blah blah … oops I just missed something in the actual movie”).

    Watch Psycho the second time and you don’t care about what happens to the money.

    Wait! Stop right there! Don’t tell me what happens to the money.

  10. James Pearce says:

    @Franklin:

    and it’s completely another thing to be sitting there during the first viewing getting distracted by the thoughts of what you were told is going to happen

    Well, that’s never happened to me. But I have sat through many films that tried to dazzle me with uninspired, recycled plots.

    And I hate to break it to the folks who think plot details “spoil” a movie, but what you’re responding to in a film that works is NOT the plot.

    Why does Die Hard hold up, but all the “Die Hard..on a plane!” clones don’t? May it have more to do with Bruce Willis’s charm than the familiar “lone hero takes out the bad guys” plot?

  11. MBunge says:

    @James Pearce: And I hate to break it to the folks who think plot details “spoil” a movie, but what you’re responding to in a film that works is NOT the plot.

    Right. I’m sure if everybody had known the ending to Chinatown a month before it happened, that wouldn’t have affected anyone’s enjoyment of the film. Ditto “Rosebud” or “Luke, I am your father.”

    Mike

  12. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:

    what you’re responding to in a film that works is NOT the plot.

    That’s at least half true depending on the movie. What you’re responding to isn’t ONLY the plot and depending on the film maybe not primarily the plot, but plot matters.

  13. James Pearce says:

    @MBunge:

    I’m sure if everybody had known the ending to Chinatown a month before it happened, that wouldn’t have affected anyone’s enjoyment of the film.

    Well, I didn’t say that. I’m not arguing for “spoilers for all,” but merely pointing out that plot ignorance is not that important to enjoying a film. People have managed to enjoy films based on books they’ve read or historical events they know from A to Z. Indeed, their familiarity with the source material, whether it’s a novel or the true story of how Dr. Omalu discovered CTE, the Essex was sank, or Hugh Glass escaped his bear, might actually increase their interest in seeing the film.

    The audience’s appetite for remakes and sequels hints at a preference for familiar plots, not novel ones. That the remakes and sequels are not allowed to depart too far from their originals also points to a preference for familiarity.

    So there’s one part of my argument. That audiences don’t actually prefer novel plots, just twists on old familiar ones.

    Another part of my argument is that the whole “spoilers” thing makes it really hard to have a conversation on this stuff. It’s a subject of conversation, sure, but only after certain people have left the room and taken their delicate sensibilities with them. There have been way too many Star Wars think pieces festooned with spoiler warnings, as if the writer is saying, “I’m about to talk about stuff you are not prepared to handle.”

    In the case of Star Wars, these details will leak into the popular culture soon enough, but this thing getting ridiculous. We’re all running around pretending that leaking the plot details of the 7th Star Wars film (details recycled from the previous six, plus Kurosawa and Ford) can actually “spoil” the film, and worse, we’re letting people who are not prepared to participate in the conversation dictate the conversation’s terms.

    How is this good for our culture? Maybe we should better understand how we actually respond to art. And if we’re going to discuss it, we should be able to discuss it openly.

    Or maybe I’m just a grump, growing old, wearing the cuffs of my trousers rolled.

  14. Franklin says:

    It’s not a direct analogy, but do you watch sports? I can’t even watch a sporting event with a 5-minute delay (say, with a DVR). I know those fans cheering along with me aren’t actually doing so. Plus I could just find the results on the Internet.

    Regardless, I agree that the details will eventually become part of the culture. But within a week? People have other stuff to do then watch every movie opening at midnight. I don’t think that’s being too sensitive. We’ve got decades to discuss it, it doesn’t have to be this very minute.

  15. James Pearce says:

    @Franklin:

    I can’t even watch a sporting event with a 5-minute delay (say, with a DVR).

    This happened to me this weekend actually. I went to a matinee play on Sunday, came home to watch the Bronco game that I had recorded and embargoed all news on. 3 hours in, the recording ended with 8 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter.

    I had no choice but to check the scores at that point. (And boy was I disappointed.)

    Sports, of course, is different in that it’s live, not scripted, not repeatable, and more importantly, it’s not art. (Well, give me another hour on that and I could argue that athletics is, indeed, an art form…)

    Regardless, I agree that the details will eventually become part of the culture. But within a week?

    I’d argue “immediately” would be a better timeframe to discuss details than some arbitrary one in the future. But again, I’m not in favor of “spoiling” it for anyone.

    I just don’t think we need to account for those people in the conversation until they actually join it.

  16. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    but plot matters.

    I would agree, but it depends on the work. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all, for character or atmosphere based stuff, but very rarely is it the most important thing.

    I can’t think of only one film that I admire for its plot. The Usual Suspects. All the others in my pantheon of great films have other virtues.

  17. Boyd says:

    @James Pearce: It also depends on the exact nature of the specific “spoiler,” too. For instance, for anyone who hadn’t read the Harry Potter books, they’d be understandably upset if they’d been told in advance that Dumbledore was going to die in Half-Blood Prince, or even the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.

    In this particular instance, it would have been more convenient if there had been a SPOILERS! post where everyone could freely discuss the movie.

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Boyd:

    For instance, for anyone who hadn’t read the Harry Potter books, they’d be understandably upset if they’d been told in advance that Dumbledore was going to die in Half-Blood Prince, or even the identity of the Half-Blood Prince.

    No doubt. And I totally understand that impulse, even if I find it –spoiler warning– somewhat immature and unsophisticated.

  19. Franklin says:

    The Sixth Sense is one of the first movies I remember where “spoilers” became a big deal. But I’m not particularly old (nor particularly young).

  20. James Pearce says:

    @Franklin: Even before that,

    The Crying Game

    .

  21. DA says:

    I just saw it and was very disappointed. From the rave reviews I’ve been hearing, I was expecting a good, original story; instead, I was surprised at how derivative it was. On the plus side, I think there’s a very good chance that the next two will be better.

  22. Franklin says:

    @DA: You bring up another point. It’s not just spoilers but reviews for movies I intend to see. They set up expectations and, media being what it is, tend towards overhype. Meaning I am usually left disappointed.

    (Oh, and as I said above, I very much enjoyed the movie even though I agree with your assessment of the story.)