There's no need to address the hype or response to this film, so let's just jump right in. Be advised that this will be a candid discussion you might not want to participate in if you haven't seen the film.
First, I say that The Force Awakens is a good movie. It is fun and exciting and pretty much what you would hope for. I think it strikes the right kind of tonal note for fans of pretty much any level of intensity, and may even encourage a different stylistic approach to large fantasy tentpoles, which I'd be just fine with.
I say that because the film's greatest strength is its wonderful design. There is just something lovely about real props and creatures and robots and stuff in a movie like this. Even if you know it's just a guy in suit or an overlarge puppet. I don't know that any one thing could have tied this movie to its ancestors better than this kind of stylistic approach. Using sub-par 21st century CG visual effects is one large reason why movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Terminator: Genisys are no where near as cool as what came before. That, and, well, crappy storytelling. But whatever.
All of this practical design makes for an unartificially fun viewing experience, which is what a movie like this should be first and foremost. Adding to that fun is the delightful dialog by master Lawrence Kasdan. He gets playful intergender banter like no one else in the business. Where lesser writers opt for casual misogyny or unfounded competition, he goes for good-natured, witty word sparring. He is also the reason geriatric Han Solo works, which was my single greatest fear going in. So wherever this film works, thank the design team and Mr Kasdan.
And of course, Daisy Ridley. I mean seriously.
Now, although I have said it is a good movie, it is not a really good movie. One mustn't confuse exhilaration leaving the theatre for witnessing a marvel. For, as delightful as many of its elements are, the movie suffers from one kind of large problem: it's not really very complete. It functions like a really fun first act. Which, you say, it is, since it's a trilogy. But I think that it still ought to be complete in itself, with more complete character arcs and resolutions. Instead I almost get the feeling of being played, of being put off until the real movie comes out in a few years and then the world explodes out of its wonderfulness. But what else could we expect from the people who bring us a certain other "cinematic universe."
I don't want to sound like a whiner, but I really think we should at least consider the film's structural issues while heaping praise upon it. Because of how it is structured, none of the characters really have any significant development, and therefore problems kind of just solve themselves, leaving the characters essentially where they were. Take Rey. She starts off as determined and competent, and she stays that way. The one difference is that she can Force by the end, something that took Luke two masters and three movies to do but which she teaches herself in an afternoon to get out of a plot corner. The effect this change has on her as a character is not seen. It is perhaps hinted at in her journey to Luke, but something that momentous should be concluded better. Meanwhile, no other character is given any kind of resolution, either, or even time to process or emote about the death of the series' most beloved character. I guess we'll just have to wait until next time.
Of course you'll say that The Empire Strikes Back ends like that, too. Which it does. But it is the middle chapter, not the first. With it, we have already been through like five hours of story together, seen growth, setback, triumph, and failure, and know the characters well. I do not think we know any of our new characters well enough at the end of The Force Awakens or have seen them do enough to leave them as we do. It may end up being a gutsy, satisfying way of structuring the new trilogy. But until it can be enjoyed as a whole several years from now, it is an incomplete and narratively weak chunk of story.
So I say go and see it and enjoy the heck out of it, because it is an undeniably fun ride. Its enjoyability largely outweighs its dubious structure (which will be forgotten once everyone owns all three anyway) but that does keep it from being great.
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens features Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaacs, Domhnall Gleeson, and all your old favorites, and is rated PG-13 for general Star Warsing.
Written by Lawrence Kasdan, JJ Abrams, and Michael Arndt
Directed by JJ Abrams
by Chase Harrison