How do you review a movie the whole world wants to talk about but doesn’t want to talk about?
By giving people choices. So here, reader, is a choose your own adventure review. Navigate below for as little or as much feedback as you’d like. Please note: no portion of this review discusses anything that would qualify as an actual spoiler for the film, nor does any portion of the review detail anything more than you’d see in a typical movie review. But for some, less is more until you’ve seen it.
Level 1 Review, e.g.
DID YOU LIKE THE MOVIE, YES OR NO? THAT’S LITERALLY ALL I WANT TO KNOW.
Yes! That was easy. If you want to know what I liked and didn’t like in terms of craft, read on. If not, let’s end here with some love for the highly-photogenic BB-8.
Level 2 Review, e.g.
WHAT DID YOU LIKE OR NOT LIKE ABOUT IT? NO PLOT DETAILS, PLEASE.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has three primary strengths: casting, dialogue, and visuals. The sum of those parts is a set of characters that feel fully-realized and unique, even when the world they inhabit feels very familiar. I can’t think of a Star Wars film that’s made me laugh as much, partially due to the sharp dialogue and partially due to the very well-timed delivery by the actors, particularly John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Harrison Ford. The script sheds the wooden dialogue found in the prequels and trades up for something far more natural. In moments when The Force Awakens ditches the playful or humorous tone, the performances are still strong: Adam Driver’s take on Kylo Ren was the standout of the movie for me (if we’re not counting BB-8). Driver manages to deliver his lines with inflections and choices that feel like a fairly novel take on something that could be ordinary, using intensity, staccato, and even coyness where I least expected it.
My biggest gripes on the acting front would be Domhnall Gleeson – I love him, but have you ever seen someone get a little too into a role? – and Carrie Fisher, who has been killing it in her press tours, but seemed less comfortable in her role in this go-round. These two extremes of under and over performance are pretty minor complaints, though, and the general acting caliber here is probably higher than it’s been in any of the Star Wars films thus far.
Visually, director J.J. Abrams is doing what he does best here by delivering a movie that looks brand new but still feels in keeping with the original trilogy. We have several CG characters, but they look good enough to work, particularly given the mix of practical effects used to ground the visuals. Abrams’ approach to the aesthetics of the film, which involves heavily borrowing on the past while modernizing it, also represents the way The Force Awakens handles plot. This isn’t an original or particularly complex movie in regards to the broad strokes. It instead adopts plot points and arcs from previous films in the original trilogy and uses them as a landscape for a (mostly) new set of characters.
Feel like you’ve had as much information as you can take without knowing too much? Your journey ends with a fond farewell from Chewie and Han. If you want to know more about how The Force Awakens is similar to previous Star Wars films, read on.
Level 3 Review, e.g.
DOES IT FEEL LIKE THE OTHER STAR WARS FILMS? IS THAT GOOD OR BAD?
The Force Awaken holds its biggest strength and weakness in one detail: it’s a story that’s quite similar to A New Hope, rooted in similar archetypes and plot beats. It doesn’t feel like lazy theft; more like an homage and a nod to the idea that history repeats itself. Indeed, the film goes so far to make very clear call-backs to the original trilogy and point out the similarities. But that’s not the best you could hope for; the best you could hope for would be for this film to strike new ground and create something worthy of the series but still completely unique. To become a movie that would influence rather than be influenced.
But influential and innovative movies are a rare breed in any genre, and the risk of failure would have been enormous, particularly after the negative critical and audience consensus on the prequels. So The Force Awakens takes the safer bet of sticking to the basics and opting to do them extremely well, which is the next-best thing you could hope for, pulling nostalgia from the original films while setting the table for new ones. It’s basically a film that’s heavily built on audience concerns, meant to tell movie-goers: We get it. It’ll be interesting to see where the sequels goes next, though, as future films will need to delve into newer territory to keep the momentum going.
Your choose-your-own review is now over.
Kylo Ren will show you out.