Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review—Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Back at last from far, far away.

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Star Wars
Walt Disney Studios

Star Wars: The Force Awakens accomplishes two missions very handily. Foremost, it tickles the pleasure centers of the legion of Star Wars fans who have waited 30-some years for the series to return to form. (The sluggish prequels have been largely stuffed down the franchise memory hole.) To do this, director J.J. Abrams and cowriters Lawrence Kasdan (a toiler on two of the original films) and Michael Arndt have devised a story that will be, shall we say, familiar to anyone who has ever seen the first Star Wars movie, released in 1977. They have also brought back a number of iconic characters and accouterments, and they salute vintage scenes and catch-phrases with knowing fanboy purpose.

An equally important objective was to refresh the Star Wars brand with new young stars—very good ones, it turns out—and to wall off the first trilogy with a presumably irreversible plot development (one of two significant narrative twists). This would enable an honorable rebooting of the franchise by the Disney company, which acquired rights to the series three years ago when it bought the Lucasfilm operation from Star Wars creator George Lucas (who had very little input on this picture). These aims have been fully achieved.

The evil Galactic Empire of old is long gone, of course. It has been replaced here by the evil First Order, which is headed, not by the odious Emperor Palpatine of yore, but by the similarly odious Supreme Leader Snoke (a mo-capped Andy Serkis). Like Palpatine, Snoke has a horde of white-plated Stormtroopers at his command and a black-masked enforcer, the vividly conflicted Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who very strongly recalls the departed Darth Vader. Snoke is frustrated in his quest for galactic domination by the Resistance (formerly the Rebel Alliance), led by the onetime Princess Leia, now a general. (Carrie Fisher returns in the role, attended by newbie fighter pilot Oscar Isaac.) In pursuit of victory, both Snoke and Leia are keen to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last Jedi Knight, who has vanished. The key to locating him is a secret bit of information installed in a little droid called BB-8, which is even cuter than the now-mothballed R2-D2. (Its adorable gibberings are the work of Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz.)

All of this is background, though. The movie is carried almost entirely by two new characters: a scrappy young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a reformed Stormtrooper called Finn (John Boyega). Ridley, especially, crosses effortlessly into stardom here with a performance that's equal parts warm yearning and heroic grit (she has a face of the sort that cinematographers so often seek in vain). And fellow Brit Boyega is just right as a man of buried virtue who slowly discovers a well of courage he never knew he had. In a movie that reportedly cost $200-million to make, it's interesting that the romantic glow created by these two—and, in passing, by Leia and the likewise returning Han Solo (Harrison Ford, with Chewbacca in tow)—outshines most of the interstellar zoom-boom action for which the franchise long ago became famous. Some of the trademark ruckus is rousing (especially an attack by a giant tentacle monster), but some of it is shopworn—we've seen it before, and quite a lot.

Director Abrams and his fabrication unit have done a fine job with the movie's new creatures—especially a sly, Yoda-like bar owner named Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o). By ringing the old bells and adding some new surprises, and by maintaining focus on the new characters while also celebrating fans' love for the old ones, Abrams has created a sturdy template for the next two sequels, to be directed by Rian Johnson (Looper) and Colin Treverrow (Jurassic World). This one's a solid beginning, and the Force, it's safe to say, will be with it.         

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  1. First!

    Also, I just saw it. Pretty good. Agreed with most of the review. The new stars are great. One thing though is that it’s a little busy, could’ve used a few additional quiet character development moments. But for a 2015 movie it’s still better in this respect than I dared hope. I did feel quite attached to the new characters by the end.

    John Boyega seems a little too normal for a raised-from-birth stormtrooper.

    Also, lots of fan service, as you’d expect. You say it’s similar to 1977 star wars, but it’s actually similar to all of the original 3 at once.

    1. It is FAST PACED. The adage goes that spaceships always travel as fast as the plot requires them, but even for Star Wars they were moving. From the first to nearly the last scene I don’t think anyone had time to get in a quick nap between all the star warring at different planets. Maybe a minor quibble, I probably value naps too highly anyway.

      I agree with the attachment to the new characters. Loder gets it right when describing Rey; she has a face that can effortlessly go from ernest and naive to fighting mode. And the emotional range of Driver’s Kylo Ren is miles (parsecs?) ahead of Hayden Christiansen’s various shades of angst.

      There are some issues with suspension of disbelief, which at one point is outlandish, even for Star Wars. I guess that’s not unexpected with Abrams at the helm. It’s mostly forgiven though for the action set pieces with are thrilling, the humor (there are some hilarious parts in the film), the narrative twists which were all great choices for my opinion, and what I already consider the best lightsaber duel of the series.

      1. There are some issues with suspension of disbelief, which at one point is outlandish, even for Star Wars.

        During the dogfight over Glasses-Imp’s jungle bar, I made the mistake of focusing on the x-wing (piloted by whatshisname). In a 30 second period, 9 TIE fighters lope into his gunsights with disastrous results for their own well being and my ability to take the empire seriously.

      2. “It is FAST PACED. The adage goes that spaceships always travel as fast as the plot requires them, but even for Star Wars they were moving.”

        Yeah I was going to complain more but then I thought about 2009(?) Star Trek and decided to count my blessings, pacing-wise.

        “There are some issues with suspension of disbelief, ”

        SPOILER ALERT. When that death planet fired at the “faraway” republic system and the death beams arrived in no time, AND everyone could see it and the target planets from what was presumably lightyears away, yet the planets looked way closer than they should have even from within the same system, all I could think was WTF. Yes Star Wars is science fantasy, but it should be at least rationalizable. I think they should have ditched the superweapon somehow. It’s just stale since 3/4 good star wars movies have now had it, plus I felt that the First Order having that level of resources wasn’t justified, since they’re supposed to be a remnant or whatever of the destroyed Empire. Kind of makes it seem like there was no point to ROTJ.

        1. SPOILERISH: I agree with all of this, and the superweapon was what I was alluding to, I would have dumped it, or at least gone in a different direction. It almost took me right out of the movie. Also the incredible reconnaissance ability of the Resistance to have complete schematics and know that the weapon was 2 minutes from firing at one point. Though I can rationalize the resources of the First Order in assuming that the Imperial Remnant was able to maintain control over a sector of the galaxy, though not the seat of political power, and build up power over 3 decades.

    1. I’m seeing the second showing of the day. When it is over I’ll make sure you have all the relevant plot spoilers.

      1. Okay now I’ve seen it. Now for three spoilers.

        Luke and Leia are brother and sister.

        Darth Vader is their sister.

        And most important of all …. Han shot first.

        With that you can figure out the plot of the whole movie.

        1. Brain fart … I meant Darth Vader was their father.

          1. Damn. And I thought things were getting really interesting.

          2. their sister is better

          3. You were thinking of Darth Jenner.

          4. Vader can identify however xe wants, you bigot!!

    2. To be absolutely “spoiler”-free, a review would have to consist of one word: either “good”: or “bad.” Would respectfully suggest that anyone wanting to be shielded from basic knowledge like cast and plot (and tentacle monsters, I suppose) should avoid reading any reviews before seeing the movie.

  2. Rejoice! Star Wars is fun again! Flawless? No, but definitely fun, exciting and sometimes surprising. The performances were very solid, with the standouts being Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as the menacing yet conflicted Kylo Ren. I think most fans will agree, Force Awakens was the movie we wanted instead of the clunky prequels. When I left the theater tonight I felt good, happy, content and above all, entertained.

  3. I’m definitely in the minority. My friend and I saw this, and we’re not difficult to please. We both HATED this movie. I mean absolutely hated it.

    God this was awful. I want to wake up from this nightmare. Mugatu sums up my feelings

    1. It was a turd. A very glossy, overhyped turd. Abrams is already a joke, but Kasdan should be ashamed of himself. He’s whined for 35 years about Lucas not using his one stupid idea, only to then use his one empty idea while copying verbatim every plot point, and even the exact same dialog from Lucas. Kasdan should go visit the Tony Scott bridge.

      You’ll see idiot after idiot talking about liking Abrams’ first Star Trek movie better than the second because he ripped off Wrath of Khan, while staring the obvious in the face, that his first Trek was also an exact ripoff of the same movie. But because nobody has spelled that out for them, it’s invisible to their parrot brains.

  4. It sounds like they basically negated the original three movies. I thought the Empire was supposed to be destroyed? Then from the trailer you end up with no one even knowing it happened for sue so its just legend. What were the Ewoks dancing for? It has no meaning now.

    1. The Empire, in terms of its political leadership was destroyed; however, as is so often the case, another authoritarian regime popped up, using much of the infrastructure of the prior one (e.g., the USSR and KGB replaced by the Russian government and FSB, or replacing Louis XVI with Robespierre).

      A successful, pro-freedom revolution must be supported by a large scale change in the mindset of the population at large.

      1. Yeah, maybe if there was some depth to the script, but Abrams just changed the names of the Republic and Empire and did the exact same thing as the first movies. There’s no hint of your idea or structure to support it. Star Wars was never that deep, but this movie runs on just pure stupid.

        But it’s cool if you and your friends got all dressed up as Ewoks and invented your own little fan fiction to fill the gaps in the car on your way home.

        1. LOL, here’s you: I’m so smart I don’t need any imagination and want everything spelled out perfectly for me and everyone who likes things I don’t like is stupid.

          1. LOL. He practically just used a thesaurus to retitle rebellion and empire, and redid the same movie as before. Imagination isn’t even hinted at in this movie.

  5. Hey! while I always appreciate your thoughtful refviews, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF THE REBEL ALLIANCE ISSUE A SPOILER ALERT FOR YOUR REVIEW!!

  6. Saw it last night and loved it. Probably the nostalgia but made me feel like a kid again. Haven’t had that much fun in a theater in a while. It is derivative, but I think they set it up nicely for the next one to move in a more original direction.

    If you’re a die hard, see it soon. The spoilers are gonna leak.

    1. “It is derivative, but I think they set it up nicely for the next one to move in a more original direction.”

      Agreed. The movie is good, but it really shines when it does new things, for example, the ruins on Jakku, or the reformed stormtrooper idea. That’s why I think it’s such a shame that so much is recycled. If they had ditched Leia and maybe Han, not lifted so many lines from A New Hope and Empire, and filled in the space with more new ideas, the movie would have been great.

      Also, am I the only one who doesn’t like that CGI wise-alien-lady thing? The voice didn’t fit and it gave me prequel flashbacks.

      1. lines and scenes* from A New Hope and Empire

        1. wait, are you talking about the bartender from Picard’s enterprise, ’cause that African-Alien gal was VERY wise, or do you mean the oracle from matrix, who was very, very wise, or do you mean a new, original, magical lady? they all seem very wise to me, deep wellsprings of maternal wisdom, the knowings of many generations— yet also inscrutable…

          1. Think a cross of both of those, in the body of ET, done in cartoony CGI, with the voice of a young lady.

      2. I was fine with the old guard being in the movie. They need a mechanism to bridge the gap, and story wise, it makes about as much sense as a space opera could. I’d like to see Abrams take more risks in the sequels. I think he played it close to the vest out of fear of fan backlash similar to the prequels.

        She didn’t bother me, but didn’t add anything either.

        1. “I’d like to see Abrams take more risks in the sequels. I think he played it close to the vest out of fear of fan backlash similar to the prequels.”

          Yep. I would have liked to see a new story. The new characters are great and I thought the big presence of Han and to some extent Leia did them a disservice. (What they did with luke was perfect IMO.) The thing is, Han can’t really play a rogue anymore, he’s an old fart, it’s the same problem Crystal Skull had. Carrie Fisher can barely talk from all the smoking/drinking/coke. It was time to move on. So yes you need the old guard to please the fans and connect the stories, but it was a bit much, especially on top of the familiar plot, recycled scenes, and lifted lines.

          I do think Abrams did a great job. Unfortunately he won’t be directing the sequels.

          1. I would contend that Chewie got the worst treatment of the old guard. The poor wookie has gone from violently loyal partner in (virtuous) crime to bag-carrying punchingbag sidekick.

            Han/Leia’s reunion was the highlight of the movie for me.

  7. It’s pushes all the right buttons for that classic Star Wars feel, but falls short on storytelling.

    I view it as a bridge between classic Star Wars and the next trilogy rather than a standalone movie. I think VII succeeds in its role of housekeeping / laying the groundwork for the “real” storytelling which is yet to come.

  8. Agree with those saying the original content was far superior to the recycled stuff. I thought the first half of the movie was great when it was focusing on the new characters, and I wish they’d had more faith in themselves to write more original material. They overdid it a bit on saying “remember this?” over and over. Thought the ending was a great tease for the sequel, which I believe could be amazing.

    1. I think I had largely the same experience as you.

      For me, the Nazi-themed planet destroy-a-thon was roughly the point where the fanservice/stylistic adherence stopped helping the movie and started constraining it.

  9. Thanks, Kurt. You just saved me the price of theater admission. Whatever the hell that is these days.

  10. SPOILERS: At the end of the game you have to kill Dogmeat to prevent him from nuking the Prydwen.

  11. It was a solid, not totally fresh, near remake. Can’t help but feel at this point Disney cares more about selling toys and wacky merchandise like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPsJQ-qGH2A

  12. For a bridge, it’s already one third thru the next trilogy.

  13. I despise JJ Abrams. He is a lazy filmmaker for whom plot it just an inconvenience to tie together gimmicks and effects.

    On the upside he didn’t damage Star Wars as badly as he has Star Trek.

  14. NO SPOILERS HERE! Opinion, however, abound, and we all know what opinions are like.
    .
    Abrams has two “secret” weapons: Orci and Kurtzman. Together they form an unholy triumvirate whose sum is greater than the aggregate of its parts. Even with them he flounders but without them he is–pardon the pun–lost. Orci and Kurtzman are capable mechanics, but without Abrams, they too wander in search of purpose. When together in their Voltron form, they shower us with imperfect but charming gifts like Fringe, while separately they create Transformers and Sleepy Hollow.

    Lawrence Kasdan has constructed an entire career on unrepentant sentimentality and brash charm. Silverado? Episode 5? Grand Canyon? Larry Kasdan is the poster-child for what a talented director can do with the foundation of a rollicking story.

    In my humble opinion, The Force Awakens is the second best film in the Star Wars anthology, second only to The Empire Strikes Back, which is itself one of the greatest movies ever made due largely to Kershner keeping Lucas’ fevered ego firmly in check.

    I’m not exactly a SW fanboy, but even I had to enjoy watching my childhood mined for emotional nuggets by TFA. And far from being offended by it, I willingly bargained those bits as fair payment for a ticket to ride the space opera express.

    1. I would very politely suggest to Abrams-haters that he may not be the hero we needed to take on the role of go-to director for our current age, but he is probably the hero we deserve. And he is–lense-flare, warts, and all–a solid, if uninspired, mechanic.

      As our Dark Lord of Critique observed above, this film more than adequately bridges the gap between where-we-have-been and where-we-are-going and it does so with significantly less snickering smugness and did-you-see-what-I-did-thar ham-handedness than, say, the Star Trek reboot (a prime example, for me at least, of the Unholy Triumvirate failing to deliver even when Voltron-ed). Yeah, that’s a word now.

      A masterful film by an auteur director? Hardly! But still forceful enough to grab my inner 10 year old by the collar and abduct me to the space opera for 2 hours, and certainly a worthy mechanism for seducing fans to stay on the ride for another round.

      1. I feel as if my gap has indeed been bridged…and my wallet successfully lifted and emptied…80% at best and that’s only cause of partial credit.

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