There are stories about what happened.
It’s true. All of it. The Dark Side. The Jedi. They’re real.
So, where to even start? It’s . . . a good movie. It’s basically well-written, incredibly well-performed across the board, directed well enough. It hasn’t come anywhere near displacing the original Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back as some lunatics were sufficiently off their heads to actually verbalize. The new characters are handled quite well. John Boyega is charming, likable and his moral journey is believable. Oscar Isaac has a fairly thin character, but he plays him well, so it’s easy to like him fine. Adam Driver is very good in his villainous turn, though I confess that I didn’t care for his temper tantrums which always range false. Domhnall Gleeson, an actor very few people are talking about with this movie, is really excellent as General Hux, a straight-arrow who believes in the rule of law & order, but that has enough of the spiritual to be downright exalted when firing the worldcrusher or whatever that thing was. Daisy Ridley is easily one of the best things about the film; she lands every moment perfectly, from her excited exuberance after her first dogfight to her real pain and sorrow at the climax of the movie to her beautifully expressive wordless scene at the end of the movie. The other “best thing in the movie” is easily Harrison Ford’s winning performance as Han Solo. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Ford this committed to a role; he actually cares and it shows. There’s never a doubt in your mind that this is the Han Solo of the original films, just thirty years on. Even more impressive than Ridley and Ford separately is Ridley-Ford as a unit. The two of them have really wonderful chemistry, the best of any of the performers in the film, and it makes their character dynamic come to life in a way that script doesn’t exactly.
Problems? Sure. That the film really does explicitly echo the original is a big talking point and it’s not a huge problem. The final battle, however, becomes tedious, with all the Starfighters trying to hit that one weak point in order to destroy the planetgun or whatever. That doesn’t feel like an echo or an homage; it feels like the same thing we’ve seen a hundred times before. Likewise the “cantina scene” with the bizarre and poorly animated (the only special effect that doesn’t particularly look real) Maz Kanata (or whatever) is simply not very good. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t know what to do with Carrie Fisher and, in what is definitely an attempt to hide the fact that *gasp* women age just like men do, she’s not just de-emphasized in the plot, she’s literally thrown onto the sidelines as soon as she appears. And the film attempts to handwave (ironically) a lot of lazy plotting. Why on earth is there even a map to Luke Skywalker’s hiding place? Why does such a thing even exist? How did it end up split into two pieces with the bad guys having one and the good guys having the other? A particularly annoying example comes when Rey discovers Luke’s lightsaber . . . in a storage closet . . . in the basement . . . of some random bar . . . When queried about how the most famous weapon in the galaxy ended up in a goddamn mop bucket, Maz dramatically intones, “That is a story for another time,” which is screenplay for “take time to come up with reasons? HA!”
But I could go on picking apart this movie for hours, both in good ways and in bad; it’s the nature of being a Star Wars fan. At the end of the day, it’s a film that’s successful almost entirely, with only a few clunky moments and in a universe where Jar Jar Binks exists, I’ll ******* take it. And when the film works, it really, really works. The early confrontation between Dameron and Ren; a Stormtrooper with a melee weapon; Kylo Ren praying for strength to resist the awful temptation of . . . the Light Side, instead of the Dark; General Hux’s insane expression when the laser is fired; the moment the lightsaber flies to Rey in the forest; the confrontation between Han and Ben; and, yes, that final scene in which Mark Hamill looks and feels as right as Luke as Ford did as Han. Is it a masterpiece for all time? Doubtful. Is it an exciting breath of fresh air into a dead film franchise? Absolutely. Is it perfect? No way. Is it a must see? Yes, I’d say so. 4 stars.
tl;dr – film has flaws aplenty, but it’s still an incredibly enjoyable, brilliantly acted, character- based breath of fresh air; still not as problematic as RotJ and that’s a must see; so is this one. 4 stars.