My spoiler-free review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015)

This review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will be necessarily brief, for fear of spoilers.  And when I say “fear of spoilers,” I really do mean FEAR of spoilers.  There are people out there who will burn your house down if you ruin this long-awaited film’s surprises.

I really liked it.  I would somewhat grudgingly give it a 9 out of 10, as I can’t match the sheer ardor of its global legions of fans.  (Yes, “Star Wars” was a big part of my childhood, but I have more or less gotten over it.  I read last night, for example, that filmmaker Kevin Smith actually cried upon stepping aboard the Millennium Falcon when he visited the set; I am not quite as nostalgic as that.)

In short, it absolutely succeeds as a fun space fantasy, and recaptures the spirit of the original “Holy Trilogy.”  It easily surpasses the much-maligned prequels on nearly every level, including screenwriting, acting and special effects.  The predominance of practical effects over those that are exclusively digital make this movie’s universe feel “real” and “lived in.”

We finally have relatable characters again who sound real, and who can invite viewer sympathy.  The dramatic interaction among our newer heroes and returning icons is both logical and emotionally involving.  I was surprised at how well this movie handled the passing of the torch.  It was a kind of skilled storytelling that was almost entirely absent from the last three films.  And the special effects were top notch.

My only mild quibbles might reflect a greater degree of objectivity that you might hear from someone who is not a raging fan of the series.  This film so closely parallels the original “Star Wars” (1977) that at times it started to feel like a remake.  Were the similarities in structure, characters, plot points, planets and villains all an intentional homage?  I suggest that our bad guys here, for example, sometimes feel interchangeable with those of past “Star Wars” films.  I want to say more, but can’t, because of spoilers.  Am I the only person who noticed these things?

I also submit that, like a few other “Star Wars” movies, our characters are rendered with little depth, with sparse information about their skills, motivations, backgrounds or ideosyncrasies.  The dialogue is thin.  Consider lines like “He’s my friend!” and “Because it’s the right thing to do.”   And we are presented with no information about why the speaker here is so noble, when others are not.  Even if the screenwriting here is better than the prequels, it’s still not Tennessee Williams.

It’s all very forgivable, I guess, just so long as the viewer remembers that they’re sitting down to an installment in a film franchise originally intended for young people.  It’s kid stuff.  It’s really, really good kid stuff, but it’s kid stuff.  (Don’t burn my house down!)

And the reason I chose a 9 rating instead of an 8 was primarily the enjoyment I got from seeing familiar faces.  The return of our icons was surprisingly well depicted and, if you loved “Star Wars” as a kid, then that should be enough to make this a “must-see” movie.




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