It was much better than the prequels. The acting and special effects and action sequences were all solid. The writing was better, too.
Harrison Ford did a great job stepping back into the role of Han. And Chewbacca was definitely Chewbacca.
Rey and Finn stand well on their own, and should be able to carry a new trilogy. In fact, I may like them better than some of the original trilogy characters. Finn especially stands out as a character with no direct analogue in the original films, and a fairly good character arc on top of that. (Also, I wanted to see more of Poe.)
The sequences on Jakku were probably the best parts of the film, especially the escape sequence on the Falcon. I also thought Rey and Finn had pretty good chemistry.
Favorite short moments:
- The two stormtroopers doing a "nope" when they realized Kylo Ren was having a tantrum down the hall.
- The sequence where Rey fails, then succeeds, in mind-tricking the stormtrooper. (Who, the Internet tells me, was secretly Daniel Craig?)
- That one stormtrooper with the taser-mace or whatever that took on lightsaber-wielding Finn. (However, that should have been Phasma - more on that later.)
- The reveal of the Millennium Falcon on Jakku.
- It was a nice touch that Rey's lightsaber style reflected her staff-fighting, with lots of thrusting attacks and such.
MIXED FEELINGS (AND COMMENTS)
Things move awful fast. For one, it seems to take only a matter of minutes to get from one side of the galaxy to the other, most noticeably when the First Order and the Resistance both arrive on that planet shortly after their spies inform them BB-8 is there. Likewise, people seem to become really close really fast - Rey seeing Han as a father figure, Poe hugging Finn like they're best buddies, Leia hugging Rey after seeing her for the first time. All of which I can accept, but I sure noticed.
Finn (or Boyega) overdid it on occasion, but Han shutting him down that last time helped.
Speaking of Finn, he quit the First Order because he was disgusted by killing... but within minutes he was happily slaughtering his ex-teammates?
Kylo Ren was pretty great while he wore a mask. Once he took it off, though, it was downhill from there. He never becomes a bad character, but he falls short of Vader's menace for sure. That said, I'm OK with the character - he reminds me of Anakin, but better-executed, and I like that he's a bad person struggling against his nobler instincts (instead of the more common reverse).
Leia and Han's son turning to the dark side was a good idea... that originated in the expanded universe fiction (see Jacen Solo). Not a knock, really, but interesting.
Rey picked up the Force awful easy, even easier than Luke or Anakin. I guess you could assume her lightsaber vision and Kylo Ren's mental assault somehow jumpstarted her, but still.
Han's death. I saw it coming once I realized he would be confronting his son (and also suspected someone from the original films would die). It was still sad, but that hunch took something away from the impact for me.
Starkiller Base was a plausible threat, and they were wise to admit it was basically Death Star 2015 Edition, rather than pretending it was unprecedented. But it would have been better to do something different, of course. Also, does the planet move? If not, what was their plan after consuming the (presumably) twin stars in the system? (Incidentally, I assumed they destroyed Coruscant, but the Internet says otherwise.)
Carrie Fisher did OK, but she didn't reprise Leia as well as Ford did Han. Mark Hamill looked good as an aged Luke (much better than he's looked in other recent productions, in fact)... but is that all we get? Thirty seconds of him staring silently at Rey?
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE
I'm going to list some plot points from a Star Wars movie.
- A droid with information vital to a rebellion is lost on a desert planet, where it is found by a young person with a great destiny ahead.
- Bad guys looking for the droid pursue our heroes, and they escape aboard the Millennium Falcon.
- The heroes are aided by the smuggler Han Solo, who is in trouble with his employers.
- The heroes meet a key contact at a bar filled with strange aliens.
- The young person is given Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber.
- The lead villain, certain that the main female character has the vital information, captures her. She is taken to the location of a powerful superweapon, where she is interrogated.
- The superweapon, capable of destroying planets, demonstrates its terrible power by blowing up an important good-guy planet. Its next target is the rebels' main base.
- The young person's aged mentor is slain by the main villain at a climactic moment, while they can only stand by and watch.
- The superweapon is destroyed in a daring raid that targets a vital weak point in its design.
Can you tell me which Star Wars movie I'm talking about?
I was surprised to realize that while this film was superior in nearly every respect, Episodes I through III definitely beat this film on one count - they at least had their own storyline, and weren't closely copying the original film's plot.
Did all that copying ruin the film for me? No, I was still entertained. And I recognize those elements... those many elements... could be interpreted as callbacks or homages, not recycling. And there was enough new stuff woven in to keep it fairly fresh. But while I certainly expected some parallels - how could I not, from the trailers? - I didn't expect The Force Awakens to basically be a remix of A New Hope. At times, it even felt like a stealth remake!
Now, I'll forgive it this time, because I recognize they were trying to relaunch the franchise for a new era, and reach out to both veteran fans and brand-new viewers. But if Episode VIII is just a remix of Empire, I will be far less kind.
Also, overall, the movie didn't have many "wow" moments. It was good, it was entertaining, it was well-made, it was even charming, but little made me want to stand up and cheer. Maybe I'm just getting old and hard to impress, though.
Oh, and Captain Phasma was a huge disappointment. They set her up as this intimidating threat, but when threatened with a gun she just buckles? I figured at least, she'd activate the alarm instead of deactivating the shields. They should have replaced her with some generic stormtrooper, then I could have bought it. Instead, I would have had Phasma being the one fighting Finn on the forest planet.
I probably give this movie a B+, or maybe a weak A-. (I place it below Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I absolutely consider an A- film.) It's solid and well-constructed, and they put a lot of good work into it, and it certainly revives the franchise for a new generation. I am looking forward to a sequel... but later installments need to offer something more.