I wasn’t able to see it opening weekend, or opening month, for that matter. I had to bury my head in the sand when it came to social media, but I actually managed to avoid all but one spoiler — and that one was of such dubious origin that I didn’t really credit it until I was at a point in the film where even if I hadn’t seen the spoiler I would have strongly suspected it was coming. So overall I think I actually did all right in my avoidance.
There will be no spoilers in this review. I can’t vouch for the comments in reply to it, but at least for the content of my actual review, I shall be including no plot spoilers of any sort. If you’ve seen a trailer you know more about the plot than I will tell you. I’m sure most diehard fans have long since seen the movie, but “most” isn’t “all”, as proven by my own situation. And as Star Wars — indeed any movie, but most especially Star Wars — is best experienced as a surprise the first time, I have no desire to spoil even the smallest surprise for anybody else.
Instead, I shall endeavor to review the film entirely in the abstract; the quality of the acting, the directing, and how good the story is, without going into specifics.
Let me start with the directing. The film was directed by J.J. Abrams, and is the first film in the main sequence not to be directed by George Lucas since Return of the Jedi. Abrams is a competent director, but he does have his hallmarks that most fans were probably on the lookout for. To cut short on internet snark, yes, there’s one scene where I noticed a lens flare, and there was a shot in the opening that didn’t involve one but still felt very Abrams-ish in its lighting effects. Nevertheless, this is a film that mostly does not feel as if Abrams directed it to be an Abrams film, but rather to be a Star Wars film. The shots, the effects… they all look more like a polished version of the original trilogy than a new style.
The story is one that works well. We are dropped, as usual, in the middle of things. A couple of decades have passed since the events of The Return of the Jedi. New dangers have been underway for some time. New heroes and old are rising to face those dangers. It’s perhaps a bit difficult to discuss the plot without discussing details of the plot, but I think for most fans the details aren’t something they need from a review. What I would want to know, were I reading this, would be how the story feels. And it feels exciting. It feels a bit mysterious. It feels adventurous. And most of all, it lacks the cardinal sin of The Phantom Menace. Unlike the bulk of that film, it feels like Star Wars.
Part of this, of course, is the return of old familiar characters and Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher are all welcome faces to see. The characters have been written into their new places very skillfully; I think every viewer will agree that, for example, Princess Leia is doing exactly what we would expect her to be doing in her situation. And the actors are so familiar to us and with their roles that we can pick up so much just a little twitch of the lips or turn of the head. We know them. We know what they’re thinking. It all fits.
And, rather importantly, the new characters fit as well. Daisy Ridley’s Rei is a dynamic, driven fighter who is an appropriate counterpart to Leia — or perhaps to Luke, who she seems to be a bit more like in personality. John Boyega as Finn has a more conflicted role, and one that is just as interesting to watch. And the film manages to balance the importance of the new with the old, so that it doesn’t feel like it’s just adding either in as cameos. The one criticism I have with the characters is in the villain department. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is an interestingly written character, and I think he has definite potential — but I didn’t get the feeling of intimidation from him that I did from Darth Vader. Granted, that’s a high mark to hit. And the other villains aren’t fleshed out quite as much yet.
The one other criticism I have with the film is that it does lack just a bit of originality. There are times when it doesn’t just feel like Star Wars (the franchise), but also feels like Star Wars (the original film). There are certainly differences enough to keep things surprising, but if you look for the similarities, they’re there in more-than-ample abundance. But it’s not a major criticism. There are certainly worse crimes to have committed, and there’s plenty of room for divergence in the rest of the trilogy.
Which brings me to the one other thing I found myself wanting when it was done: more.