Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o


Ten years after George Lucas concluded his mostly disappointing prequel trilogy with Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, a previously unthinkable scenario has come to pass. A brand new Star Wars movie is about to hit theatres with no involvement from its visionary creator. On the one hand, it feels like a miracle that a beloved franchise with so much remaining potential has been finally set free, but on the other hand, can a Star Wars movie from the mind of anyone other than George Lucas still be considered a Star Wars movie?

J.J. Abrams has already revitalized one major sci-fi franchise with Star Trek, and although fans are divided over the results, his approach here is different. He did not need to chart a new course and expand the Star Wars audience, only reconnect with existing fans. He definitely succeeds on that front with the unfortunate side effect being that the plot of The Force Awakens actually feels a little too familiar at points. Nevertheless, the movie is a great mix of old and new and it is sure to tug at the heartstrings of longtime fans.

The events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens take place approximately 30 years after Return of the Jedi with the Rebel victory over the Empire slowly giving way to a new threat from another group known as the First Order, who are essentially picking up where the Empire left off. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia have faded from public view and have become near-mythic figures. When Kylo Ren, the leader of The First Order, captures one of the Resistance’s finest pilots, he seeks information about the location of one of these long lost Rebel heroes. Little does he know, there are other heroes ready to step up, some possibly within his own midst.

While it does feel a little bit ridiculous to have everything the Rebels worked for in the previous trilogy discarded immediately, we buy into this new scenario because we want to. We saw with the prequels that galactic politics and trade disputes are not the most scintillating material for a space opera, so getting back to a simple good vs. evil struggle is instantly compelling. There seems to have been a concerted effort to avoid exposition here, which is actually a great thing. As with A New Hope, we are asked to fill in some of the blanks ourselves, while the story moves at a fast enough pace that the details become largely irrelevant.

The new characters in particular are light on back story but it keeps them unpredictable and allows us to bond with them strictly based on the things they say and do in the movie. It may come as a surprise to some that Rey is the lead of the new trilogy and but it’s a great choice and newcomer Daisy Ridley’s performance anchors the entire film. She feels like she belongs in this universe from the first second she appears on screen, managing to embody both the regal confidence of Leia and the working class naivete of Luke Skywalker. John Boyega is also great as Finn, bringing a sense of excitement and fun that can only come from an actor who is genuinely thrilled to be in a Star Wars movie. He is able to move between comedy and drama effortlessly and the two play off each other quite well.

Oscar Isaac too is completely charming as the pilot Poe Dameron (who we learn almost nothing about) and the droid BB-8 is an instant fan favourite with a personality all his own. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren is mostly solid, although there are a few comedic moments that seems to undermine him as a villain slightly. There is a sense that he is just a spoiled brat, although I’m not sure if that is intentional or not. Domhnall Gleeson makes an ideal Grand Moff-type character, while Gwendoline Christie does what she can with Captain Phasma even though it is ultimately a pretty minor role.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015

While we were all excited to see the old cast members return, there was always a question of whether or not they would still have it. Fortunately, they do slip back into these old roles quite easily and the writing supports them every step of the way. Han Solo and Chewie, Han Solo and Leia, even C3PO and R2-D2… the chemistry is still there and the feeling of reuniting with old friends is palpable. Some members of the original cast are more involved than you might expect and some a little less, but overall the movie seems to strike the right balance of screen time between familiar faces and new ones.

Most of today’s blockbusters seem to be measured by the scale of the effects and the impressiveness of the action sequences and, make no mistake, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is packed with plenty of exhilarating large scale battles. But unlike a lot of recent blockbusters, it does not feel like an empty shell. This movie delivers on smaller character moments, comedy and a sense of adventure as well. The big set pieces are not necessarily what I will remember from it, which speaks volumes.

There has been a lot of emphasis on the use of practical effects in the movie’s marketing, but don’t be fooled, there is still plenty of CG in the film as well. The choice to use CG characters in a few specific instances seems a bit odd, especially when there is no obvious reason for it (ie. the same thing could be accomplished with make-up), but the use of physical sets definitely marks a huge improvement over the prequels when it comes to believing what we see on screen. As always, John Williams’ score and the impeccable sound design are absolutely crucial to recreating the feel of the original trilogy.

All of this being said, the biggest problem with this movie is that it tries so hard to recreate the original films that it doesn’t entirely become its own thing. George Lucas has always used the excuse that the repetition throughout the series is like stanzas in a poem, but this time around it does feel a little derivative. Also I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some significant plot threads remain unresolved and will carry over into the next film. Cynics will want to label this an unfortunate result of the “cinematic universe” trend but to be fair, the original trilogy had its share of cliffhangers as well.

There are also a handful of convenient coincidences and minor lapses in logic and at least one major plot point that is sure to divide fans, but in the grand scheme of things, I think it’s safe to say that this is indeed the Star Wars sequel you’re looking for. Whether or not it will capture the imagination of a new generation in the same way that A New Hope did back in 1977 remains to be seen, but J.J. Abrams has managed to right the ship. Now it’s up to Disney and their chosen creative team to allow the new cast to start carving out their own path and ensure that they too eventually become the stuff of legends. — Sean

SCORE: 4 stars

  • HuckCity

    This is unacceptable. I haven’t read a single word on this page except the stars beside the word “Score” and I must say you are obviously wrong. Having not seen the movie yet, I know for a fact that anything less than 6/5 is just plain wrong.

  • Gerry

    I think the unresolved issues are probably a result of everyone saying Empire was the best of the original trilogy.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  • Mark

    It’s Episode 7 of a 9 (or more) series of films. Why wouldn’t it have “unresolved issues”?

  • Mark

    I obviously haven’t seen the film yet, but I have to say, I’m a bit bummed about hearing that there are 3 major CGI-creature/people sequences – especially since, as you say, the living things that were chosen to be CGI simply didn’t need to be (I’m thinking of two characters and a creature sequence I’ve read about). I just don’t get that creative decision, considering that they likely had the best practical effects people in the business at their disposal. Being sick of CGI characters as I am, I guess I should be glad that there aren’t more and that the film isn’t as awash in it as the prequels were – but having two IMPORTANT characters be CGI – when they were using GREAT actors and they could have just put them in make-up? It’s just mind-boggling. Everything else I know about it (which is everything, actually – just trying not to spoil) sounds terrific – if sad, if’n you know what I refer to – and the callbacks to the original trilogy being a bad thing is bewildering to me: it’s a *continuation* of the original trilogy, which always referenced itself – and even if it may go overboard at times with that, I’ll thankfully take the fan “service” after the depressing experience of those prequels.

  • Stinker

    Some say….”Best Movie” Oscar and things like this, but could it be that
    it is good compared to the Prequels, which lowered the bar to the sub level of Quality?

    And a story which is “similar” to the “first” Movie, incl. another Planet / Solar system killing super weapon?

    Come on, a new plot structure could be good, esp. when they keep the Taxation and other “Star Trek” Themes out of the fantasy Star Wars world.

    But when you are running a multi BILLION Media Machine, you are forced to be “save” than “Sorry, nice try”.

    And what half build “Super Dooper” SuperWeapon will be a key part of Part IX, and will they this time will go to Chewie´s homeplanet?

    But there are still the stand alone movies………..

    Hope they will be more

  • Daisy Ridley is going to be a goddamn star after this.

  • Gerry

    There are ways to deal with ongoing issues, i.e. skillfully, that make the current film feel like a resolved … film at the end, instead of having the structure of the films like a TV show.

  • Nick Poliskey

    I think that is quite subjective. My wife loves Empire Strikes Back, but HATES the ending. I think it is the best part of an otherwise average movie. I think the cliffhanger at the end of the Back to the Future 2 is something best movie magic ever put on screen. I am in love with cliffhangers if done well.

  • Nick Poliskey

    Sean, I didn’t read the review (I don’t want spoilers), but I did see the 4/5, and FUCK man, now I am gonna be watching for things, just anything, that could knock it down a peg. If you can’t give it at least a 6/5, wait until next week to post your review. You might have just ruined my weekend.

  • B MP Rooney

    A Film Junk 4/5 is truly a 2.5. Poss 2 …

  • Sean

    Well, look at it this way… perhaps by lowering your expectations slightly, the movie will end up surpassing them and you’ll actually love it. You can thank me later.

  • Sean

    It’s sitting at 81% on Metacritic right now, so I guess most critics tend to give an extra star and a half bump as well.

  • B MP Rooney

    Woah! A response from the man himself. Cool! Incredible podcast. Best piece of pop culture of all time. A-thank you.

  • Sean

    I feel like you may be exaggerating slightly, but thank you sir.

  • B MP Rooney

    No way, man. I think others will agree. Is it the movie or the podcast about the movie that we look forward to? At this point, the Film Junk podcast has eclipsed all other pop culture interests. – 24 year old dude from New Jersey

  • BobTheAvenger!

    Yeah..and dont forget about the movie cliffhanger a movie about alot of cliffhangers….”WE NEED INSULIN..HURRY”!….great scene…

  • Kenneth Serenyi

    The AFI is listing The force Awakens in their top 10 of the year. I hope I agree…

  • Nick Poliskey

    Well I just saw it and yep 4/5 for me. Loved every second except for one major planet sized problem………

  • Bandit Manatee

    Just got back from watching it tonight. I have to agree it’s disappointing when the film cribs from the original trilogy because quite frankly this movie was at it’s best when it’s treading new ground. I thought the search for skywalker plot was more than enough setup to drive the plot. There was no need for another super weapon. The mystery of what happened to Luke was intriguing enough. Perhaps episode 8 could have Rey and Luke looking for a lost relic of the Jedi and mix some Indiana Jones in with Star Wars.

    The new cast is fantastic. Obviously there is a lot left unresolved but I found it very strange that we did not get more backstory on Luke and Kylo I felt it would have deepened the motivations for the heroes. But I guess that is for 8, and this movie left me very eager to see what happens in 8.

  • stbell75

    It wasn’t just disappointing, I felt it was just downright bad. We have come to expect plot contrivances and soap operatic family connections from the Star Wars movies, but I also expected a bit of exposition, particularly with regards to the First Order, for example. Maybe – scratch that, obviously – they’re laying down a lot of threads to be picked up in Episodes 8 and 9 (particularly with regards to Rey, and Kylo Ren) but it just felt spectacularly lazy. Almost as if the film-makers knew full well that us fans will have played this out a thousand times in our heads already, so they felt relieved of any responsibility to keep things tight.
    Clearly the returning cast members have a pint of fun to wash down their paychecks, but with the exception of John Boyega most of the newcomers were bland and / or under-used, Llewyn Davis in particular. Daisy Ridley, whilst pretty, was just flat out awful, the most excruciatingly wooden screen heroine in recent memory. Adam Driver does petulant annoying brat very well, but for what reason? It made me long for Anakin throwing his toys out of the pram – at least we saw his motivation and thought process.
    The film is packed full of Star Wars tropes, and nods and winks till the cows come home, but it’s utterly devoid of the heart and spark that made the previous films so special. Say what you like about the Prequels (I actually like them) but at least Lucas “got” Star Wars – it’s his baby after all. Disney and Abrams, it seems, can’t see past the cash registers. It lacks the insight and empathy of JJ’s work reigniting the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises; see, for example, the certain “unfortunate incident” which happens later on, the way in which it is heavily signposted, but then its emotional consequences are negligible. Those films were made as much for non-fans of the franchise as diehard fans. These films clearly aren’t. There is some humour, for sure, but largely it falls flat. Han Solo here is the Han of Return of the Jedi – ie forced, and with lame wisecracks – as opposed to the charmer of Empire Strikes Back – ie witty.
    I am getting totally abused by my blockbusters this year it seems. First Age of Dulltron, then Spectre, now this. It’s just so deflating. This is soulless, joyless, robotic film-making of the worst kind, but it seems many fans had convinced themselves beforehand that it would be perfect (witness the comments here and elsewhere along the lines of “it’s Star Wars so it must be 6 out of 5) and are incapable of casting a critical eye in its direction. I still love the franchise and this isn’t enough to make me lose faith, but hopefully Rian Johnson will be able to pull things out of the fire next time round, and with any luck we’ll see a little more of a certain someone who only appears for a minute or so here!
    File under: Major disappointment. 2 stars at best.

  • Bandit Manatee

    Wow you are pretty harsh. Harsher then I feel but at the same time your not entirely wrong. The one thing I disagree with is the characters and acting. I thought all the new actors were fantastic in their roles. I thought Daisy Ridley was far from wooden and a pretty good lead. I was drawn more into her performance than Luke in a New Hope.

    The movie is frustrating to me though how it simply does not explain a lot of very important plot points. You could argue that that is the point and ANH didn’t explain a lot either, but ANH was a brand new world and characters. Here we are 30 years after an apparent victory in ROTJ and everything has radically changed. We don’t get a lot explained about our old characters.

    This movie moves very fast and we don’t really get a long time to dwell on what seems to be pretty important questions. What happened between Kylo and Luke? What does the First Order want? Are they Sith aligned? WHO THE HELL IS SNOKE? How does Rey feel about her family that left her on this crappy desert planet? Why was Kylo so pissed at Han? etc. I mean I can only assume we will get some answers in 8 but it’s very weird that we are just along for the ride in this one.

  • Stu Bell

    Thanks. You’re right that was kind of harsh! Bit of a reaction possibly to reading all the critics in the papers giving it five stars and listening to Radio 5 this afternoon. But I was disappointed, as you can tell. I had many of the questions you mention, and felt we needed more to fill in the elapsed time. Some of it was major but I found myself getting distracted by some trivial stuff, eg why did Kylo bother wearing a helmet, and did he really go all the way to Endor to collect Vader’s head? Lol. I have no doubt that in time I will warm to this a little more… Just felt like throwing an alternative point of view out there :-)

  • Bandit Manatee

    Well it’s certainly great hearing all the opinions out there. Right now the film is being celebrated as a savior of the franchise by a lot of outlets. I could see a fan narrative souring on this movie as time goes on.

    I have heard J.J. Abrams mention in an interview that he was attracted to the story of a young woman asking who is Luke Skywalker? Now, given the way this film ends I don’t think we got a very good answer to that question and I am sort of left scratching my head. Now we can hope for better answers in the next film but if the narrative arc of this film as the director states was “Who is Luke Skywalker?” I feel like the movie on it’s own fails in that respect. Unfortunately I do think that is a side effect of the “cinematic universe” style that Disney uses, and Sean alluded to in his review. I guess I am a cynic in that respect. At least JJ spared us a hidden post credit sequence.

    Honestly, imagine a third act of this film without a death star 3.0 and featuring Luke Skywalker actually doing something, and I can only imagine a better film.

  • Reed Farrington

    When I give my review on the podcast, can I just read this comment? :-)

  • Stu Bell

    Agreed, I definitely missed Luke, and in a way it might even have been better not to have him at all, rather than just having him standing around for a minute right at the end. I agree it could have been much better if he had got involved earlier. Maybe he could have trained Finn and Rey in how to use a lightsabre… Oh hang on, no need, apparently anyone can pick one up and get to work now… :-) That Macguffin was a bit lacklustre too; when R2 had a secret message it was plans to the Death Star… This time round it was… A map (!). The only map of that part of the galaxy. Like, he couldn’t have maybe gone somewhere else?! Definitely need some answers next time out!

  • Stu Bell

    Haha, be my guest, give me a namecheck though :-) As it goes my email was read out on BBC Radio 5 today…so I could develop a taste for being quoted!

  • No offense, but I feel you might have typed up this review no matter what the contents of the film were.

    Force Awakens blows Age of Ultron out of the water, now that movie was a mess of action. Why wouldn’t Han be an evolution of his RotJ version? This is 30 years later after all… Myself (& MANY others) love the new characters, namely Daisy Ridley who is clearly going to be the Luke of this trilogy.

    I went and saw this today for a second time and they had trailers for all the upcoming action/adventure spectacles and with Force Awakens fresh in my mind from yesterday none of the trailers (Gods of Egypt, the 3rd Divergent flick, Batman vs. Superman, Star Trek Beyond & The Legend of Tarzan) looked like they showed half the promise of entertainment that Episode 7 gave me.

    I had problems with it sure, namely the Kylo Ren reveal veeeery early in the film… That could have been hinted at until a bigger payoff later.

    I will also say Mad Max Fury Road is still my movie of the year, so much so that instead of popping in one of the original Star Wars last night when I got home I watched Mad Max instead.

    I’m caught between 4 and 4 1/2 stars.

  • I just read what you said about Kylo and the Vader helmet… Clearly Kylo was tight with Luke as a child, it’s his uncle after all & they both have the force. It’s not all too far fetched that Luke had the helmet as a reminder after Endor. It’s also not too far fetched that Kylo stole it as he turned dark as motivation. My guess is as Luke was training him he used Vader as an example of the lure of the dark side & showed him the helmet somewhere along the way.

  • stbell75

    OK good point about the link to Luke… kind of a grim souvenir but not outside the realms of possibility :-) We’ll see (I hope!)

  • stbell75

    It certainly wasn’t my intention *not* to like it… I may be old but I’m not that much of a grumpy old man yet! And I thought I had managed to rein in my expectations for this one, that was just an initial gut reaction to it not being what I wanted / expected. As I said below or elsewhere, I’ll see this again – actually I’m keen to do so pretty soon – and I’m sure my opinion will soften.
    Re; Han, I just always noticed a marked difference between his dialogue in Empire vs Jedi, and of course he’s that character older, but I just meant that the wisecracks were generally not as sharp. And Rey… well obviously you’re right she is clearly the Luke of this trilogy, right down to being introduced with no parents on a desert planet in the Outer Rim or wherever. Trouble is, I wanted Luke to be the Luke of this trilogy. The hunt for the mythical Skywalker was more or less an afterthought to this. Abrams has said that the FO aren’t Sith, if I recall… so what are they? And ultimately it leaves this movie without any real Jedi in it (not counting the last 45 seconds) Thought they were supposed to have Returned…
    One other question, am I right in thinking that when CGI woman hands over the lightsabre on Jakku, she says “this belonged to Luke Skywalker, and his father before that” or somesuch? If so, that would be the one Luke lost in Empire along with his hand? Last seen hurtling towards the surface of a gaseous planet? If so, how did it come to be there? Just a trivial thing that niggles… Can’t remember specifically though, will check it next time.
    Let me see it again and if I’m wrong I’ll happily hold my hands up to it!

  • ColinZeal

    First movie. Decent debut I have to say. She was awesome and not at all as wooden as stbell75 claims.

  • stbell75

    By the by, I’m with you on Fury Road. Amazing. My other favourites this year were Ex Machina and Bridge of Spies (a grown up spy film, at last!) Plenty still to see though.

  • Matt Thephotoman

    Well I really enjoyed it for the most part, particularly the last half hour. A definite 4/5 for me.

  • Matt Thephotoman

    Well I really enjoyed it for the most part, particularly the last half hour. A definite 4 out of 5 for me.

  • Nobody

    I went into the film excited and open-minded. I stayed away from the last couple trailers, reviews, etc.
    The film tried so hard to recreate the magic of the originals, but I agree that it ended up being another hollow, mechanical blockbuster and a pale imitation of the original. For example, what was up with those monsters on the ship? To me, it just felt like the filmmakers thought it was a good time to insert a generic CG monster attack sequence because that’s the kind of scene a Star Wars movie, or a sci-fi action spectacle in general, should have. And it really felt like I was watching a Lord of the Rings movie during all those Snoke scenes.

    Still, I’m looking forward to both Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson’s films. At the very least, I’m certain Johnson’s Episode 8 will be significantly better than Force Awakens simply due to Johnson’s talents as both a writer and director.

  • Stinker

    Where the hell is Jorge Garcia, he is the perfect Next Generation Porkins (no offense dude, but you would be perfect)(and hopefully survive VII attack on the what ever killer driller super duper Weapon to kick ass in VIII and XI).

    And what about this colourless bland General HUX?

    Peter Cushing was a great Tarkin, he was the perfect Evil General, Old, experienced and with a touch of arrogance. HUX is a ….30 year old general, with the charisma of ….a overpaid underdeveloped white as rice “Consultant” wane be EVIL in a nice SUIT / Uniform..

    Michael Emerson would have been a great “next” generation Tarkin, a oozing slimy evil who takes pleasure in blowing up planets. And Terry o´Quinn as a Evil General ………….

  • stbell75

    Mixed blessings for Mr Johnson. On the one hand, he gets to follow the weakest film out of the seven so far, so the only way is up. On the other hand, he has to unpick all the narrative knots left by this one, so risks being exposition / flashback heavy… I liked Looper, and Brick, so I’m optimistic.

  • Justin

    The Gasman Lives!!! Having Greg back was awesome. Please come back to the show. If not on a permanent basis, then coming back as a frequent guest would be great. I have been listening to Film Junk since the first year it aired. I have certainly missed what Greg brings to the show. Jay, Sean, Greg, and later Frank all together on the show created a superb balance of perspectives and sensibilities. Please bring Greg back into the mix.

  • Stu Bell

    Really enjoyed the epic podcast, thanks chaps. Well done Reed for going against the fanboy love-in! And I will be checking out All About Eve for sure.

    Happy Christmas (or Festivus, or whatever you prefer) to one and all.

    PS Yay for Best Buy! ????