Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) by The Critical Movie Critics

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

For those who saw the first movie in the “Star Wars” saga in 1977, it was indeed a “long, long time ago.” Still, this most successful of film franchises through the years has usually delivered the goods for the most part. From generating billions of dollars at the box office (with merchandising earnings going even higher) to spawning sequels that range from superb (“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”) to decent (“Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”) to disappointing (“Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi”) to downright horrible (“Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”).

Here, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams (the truly mediocre “Star Trek Into Darkness”) introduces new characters such as the Darth Vader worshiping Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Inside Llewyn Davis”), scavenger/pilot, Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Scrawl”), hotshot rebel fighter, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, “Ex Machina”) and the Stormtrooper with a conscience, Finn (John Boyega, “Attack the Block”) and brings back old friends (much to the delight of preview audiences), Han Solo (Harrison Ford, “Ender’s Game”), Princess/Gen. Leia (Carrie Fisher, “Sorority Row”), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, “Killer Ink”), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”).

An admitted “Star Wars” fanatic, Abrams fills the film with multiple homages to the original, from a new wretched hive of villainy to a massive planet-destroying base to a final confrontation that tests the bonds of family loyalty even more than anyone could have ever guessed. It’s a nice balance of characters to root for (or against), but the plot often seems so much like the first installment (desert world where droid with hidden plans finds a sympathetic human, a young protegee learns about the Force, the battle between good and evil and even an attack upon the villain’s Death Star — only here it’s a literal Death Planet, and a visit to a cantina where costume designers get to put forth their best aliens) you might feel like you are watching the inaugural picture and Jimmy Carter is still President (except don’t expect Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be nominated for Best Picture or Best Director).

Plotwise, Leia sends her best resistance pilot, Poe, to the planet Jakku (which is littered with battles of the past, featuring giant decaying Starships, etc.) with his droid, BB-8 (R2D2’s inferior cousin) to get a map of the missing Skywalker from Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”). Discovering this, Kylo Ren, a bigwig in the First Order (the dark, malevolent Nazi-like organization that has risen from the defunct Empire), sends troops to capture the principals. One trooper, however, refuses to obey orders and aids in Poe’s eventual escape. Meanwhile, the droid has attached itself to Rey and she and Finn are chased across the landscape by Ren and his minions.

Soon, they steal the ages-old Millennium Falcon (the first cheers of recognition from the audience), which still manages to fly, and then run into Han and Chewie (to even more applause) and the recollection of good old days begin, with stunning aerial battles, amazing ground conflicts and plots by the First Order to destroy the Republic and counter plans by the resistance to destroy the bad guys. Sweet moments also take place such as Hans owing money to just about everyone in the universe, Leia and Han finally meet again after many years (having broken part because of their wayward son) and a most heartbreaking scene of all, which no doubt shocked just about every fan — or even casual fan — of the series.

While films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens tend to allow the special effects to dominate the characters (or at least the acting part of the equation; with only Sir Alec Guinness getting an Academy Award nomination for Obi-Wan Kenobi), there are several standouts in this episode. Ford, who surprisingly has only one Oscar nomination in his career (for “Witness”), does a very good job of bringing freshness and vibrancy to a beloved role, while Ridley’s Rey may be the best “Star Wars” character introduced since the original trilogy. She’s the kind of character a franchise could be built around . . . if she survives.

Trained by both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, Abrams (who breathed new life into the stale “Star Trek” franchise with 2009’s “Star Trek” before crushing it with the sequel) is given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and does the best he can with what he was given (thank goodness he continues to utilize the talents of trusted colleagues cinematographer Daniel Mindel and editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey). Star Wars: The Force Awakens has the usual toy store tie-ins (a billion dollar money maker unto itself), but it also has identifiable men and women (and aliens) who often trip into their victories, as well as the silliness to remind us that a pop cultural phenomenon like “Star Wars” is still beloved almost four decades after its inception.

Not everyone will be satisfied with this project, but with box office records being shattered every day and a whole new generation being introduced to the characters and plots of the original trilogy, one cannot complain too much. Here’s to the future of this franchise and that it overcomes the second trio of movies. Good luck, Mr. Abrams.

Critical Movie Critic Rating:
4 Star Rating: Good


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The Critical Movie Critics

I have been a movie fan for most of my life and a film critic since 1986 (my first published review was for "Platoon"). Since that time I have written for several news and entertainment publications in California, Utah and Idaho. Big fan of the Academy Awards - but wish it would go back to the five-minute dinner it was in May, 1929. A former member of the San Diego Film Critics Society and current co-host of "The Movie Guys," each Sunday afternoon on KOGO AM 600 in San Diego with Kevin Finnerty.

'Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)' have 21 comments

  1. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 10:46 am corpskull

    I could complain that this is very reminiscent of the original Star Wars but I won’t. Instead I’ll say I’m a happy fan to see the series back in theaters with a full contingent of people behind it that want to get the franchise back on sure footing.

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      December 19, 2015 @ 1:34 pm SSchultz

      I agree 1000%

  2. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 10:50 am paleoventriloquist

    Got my tickets in hand! I’m stoked!

  3. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 11:10 am Blythe

    Whilst I’m happy to have a new Star Wars after a 10 year lull, I’m a little saddened that JJ couldn’t come up with a fresher idea. Reaching for a Death Star, I mean a Starkiller, as a plot devious when it has been done several times already isn’t nostalgia, it’s nonsensical.

  4. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 11:28 am Geesus

    Saw it opening night and loved everything about it.

  5. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 11:40 am EbolaStick

    I was expecting a lot more after all the hype built up around it. It looked great, I loved the lightsabre fight, world/ship sets and seeing Han & Leia, but the writing is subpar, plot holes/conveniences are around every corner of the story and people do and say stupid things all the time.

  6. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 11:51 am I'm Donnie

    It’s entertaining as all hell. The sounds, the visuals, the characters — all brought me back to 1977 when I first experienced Star Wars.

  7. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 12:21 pm a_funny_thing_happened

    Take it for what it is, a good space action-er. There was no way Force Awakens could live up to the unrealistic expectations of being a Star Wars install.

  8. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 1:00 pm Christian

    Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      March 8, 2016 @ 9:05 pm V O T E

      Kylo Ren may be the worst realized villain ever. He gets held at bay by an ex-stormtrooper with no lightsaber skills and then gets “killed” by a fledgling Jedi girl with no lightsaber skills. JarJar Binks as a Sith Lord would have been a better choice.

  9. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 1:44 pm wildebeest

    If it weren’t a part of the Star Wars family everyone would be panning it right now.

    * The characters are purposely diversified and aren’t very good
    * The plot has more holes than Swiss cheese
    * Editing is too choppy
    * Forced humor is never good humor

  10. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 2:06 pm backspace

    Hold onto your handbags fanboys, The Force Awakens is basically A New Hope with updated graphics. J.J. Abrams borrowed heavily from it

  11. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 2:47 pm Jordo

    Star Wars is the best investment Disney has made. For a not so good movie, they’ve fleeced fans and stand to make billions.

    • The Critical Movie Critics

      December 19, 2015 @ 4:28 pm Brews

      They preyed on emotions. They’re moneysucking vampires.

  12. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 3:22 pm Rare Copy

    Does the space acrobatics and the name Star Wars override the lukewarm writing (dialogue and situations)? I’m still piecing together my feelings on this. I’m thinking it doesn’t as much as I want it to.

  13. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 6:05 pm District 9303

    It’s nothing spectacular as many would hope but it is exciting and fun and worth the price of a ticket.

  14. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 6:41 pm Straight-Talker

    Haters gonna hate.

    The Force Awakens breathes much needed new life to the original trilogy and undoes a lot of the damage of the prequels and expands the Star Wars universe to new worlds, characters and adventures.

  15. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 19, 2015 @ 9:24 pm Macintosh

    It’s a Disney movie. The love and care that went into what we all know as Star Wars is gone and it isn’t coming back. The Mouse cares only about profits this movie proves it. They had a chance to really put together a fantastic film but instead chose to rebrand the original Star Wars and have JJ Abrams, the most overhyped director, deliver it. Expect more of the same every year until the end of time.

  16. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 20, 2015 @ 8:11 am Aishwarya

    Good movie I like it so much.

  17. The Critical Movie Critics

    December 31, 2015 @ 4:04 pm O'loriel

    Like everyone before me says, the film is more disappointing than fulfilling.

  18. The Critical Movie Critics

    January 3, 2016 @ 3:11 pm Sceptre

    Dull, repeated, Movie for those who were around in 77. Probably will do extremely well with new fans, however. Skip if you’re old, see it if you’re young.

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