My dad saw A New Hope in theaters in 1977 and he thought it was “okay.” Thirty-eight years later, it’s no longer possible to have a neutral opinion about a Star Wars episode: our reviewers either thought The Force Awakens wasn’t fit to wipe George Lucas’s bottom or that it was the best thing to happen to the franchise since the blissful lack of Jar-Jar Binks in Revenge of the Sith.
It’s easy to see the downsides of The Force Awakens (same plot, bigger Death Star), but even its most stalwart haters saw potential. The Force Awakens clearly updated old Star Wars tropes—heroine Rey had Leia’s spunk but a Luke-like amount of the Force, while Poe Dameron performed Luke’s role in A New Hope with a decidedly Han Solo-esque temperament. As for The Force Awakens, there’s not enough character depth in the new trilogy to spark a raging Han Shot First-style debate nor does this episode contain any lines as immortal as “I am your father”; still, there’s nothing in The Force Awakens as visually egregious as Anakin’s rat tail (excuse me, Padawan braid) circa Attack of the Clones.
The conclusion, according to our writers? Well, maybe that—laugh it up, fuzzball—The Force Awakens was just “okay.” —Miriam Benjamin, Associate Arts Editor
J.J. Abrams does what he does best in this seventh installment of the seemingly un-killable franchise known as Star Wars: make a horribly unoriginal and really, really dumb movie. New characters Finn and Rey alternate between setting off explosions and delivering somewhat pithy one-liners. Harrison Ford’s tired, wrinkled face also makes an appearance in this poorly made knockoff of the first Star Wars film. It might as well be called Star Wars: The Plagiarism Awakens, except that it’s worse than the 1977 classic in almost every way: worse characterizations, worse villains, poorly established stakes, an incredibly dumb script, and the worst use of the Wilhelm Scream I’ve ever heard. Have I mentioned it’s dumb?
If you do go see it, I’d like you to have a good experience, so you should probably bang your head against the wall as hard as you possibly can to inflict enough brain damage to keep you from noticing the plot holes. This is by far the worst seventh installment in a franchise to come out this year. Go see Creed instead.
C- —Harry O’Neil ’17
Like many people, I was a Star Wars fanatic as a child, having watched the original trilogy religiously and collected the seemingly endless supply of merchandise. But as I grew older, I became more cynical over the merits of Star Wars, seeing it as the seed for the crass, shallow blockbusters that dominate present-day Hollywood. George Lucas has only continued to exacerbate his creation’s legacy through his widely maligned prequels and director’s cuts of the first three movies.
J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first of Disney’s new trilogy, is intent on washing away Lucas’s muck by returning to the original films’ roots. The reliance on the initial trilogy is clear, featuring many old Star Wars landmarks and characters, and the story is nearly beat by beat the same as the first movie, even including another Death Star clone.
Yet The Force Awakens gleefully embraces such comparisons and by doing so doesn’t get bogged down by simply catering to fans’ desires. Abrams’s direction is bright and buoyant; alongside John Williams’s boisterous score, it feels truer to the spirit of the older films than The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith ever did. The Force Awakens’ exuberance and sheer energy melted away my pessimism about Star Wars.
Weighed down by an unoriginal plot, The Force Awakens is by no means great, but it is exactly what a new Star Wars movie should be like: vigorous, robust, and most importantly, enjoyable. Despite its flaws, The Force Awakens succeeds at redeeming Star Wars ’ reputation.
B+ —Charles Khosla ’18
Things I want from Episode VIII (sung to the tune of “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music):
Poe, and Finn, to be best bros,
Rey, to find out who she’s from,*
Me, to laugh at, a lot of jokes,
Finn, tempted by Sith scum,
Solo, to inspire Kylo Ren,
Leia, and not just to follow Solo,
BB, and R2 to become friends,
It’s hard to wait for more Star Wars, Star Wars. Star Wars, Wars.
*My money’s on Kenobi.
A —Abby Kuchnir ’19
Star Wars has grown to such behemothic proportions that it’s become unwieldy. Basically the only phenomenon that can match its weight pound-for-pound is the good ol’ Bible. So here I turn to Ecclesiastes 1:8–9 (King James Version): “All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”
Ergo: the last Star Wars movies sucked and blew and ever since then talking about the movies has been mealy-mouthed and frankly just a chore. Similarly, “that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun,” and so this new one is like the old: The Force Awakens is fun and shamelessly, even proudly, apes everything about A New Hope.
There’s an argument that Star Wars was always an unoriginal pastiche. This is half right, but would go a lot further with me if The Force Awakens was a particularly good rip-off, instead of an unsound scaffolding for a multi-billion-dollar trans-media endeavor that escapes catastrophe only by deploying what it managed to grave-rob. (Though I’ll admit, they found charming young actors who manage to sell character moments that are mostly under-justified nonsense.)
“I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift…nor yet riches to the wise,” indeed.
C+ —Walker King ’16
Star Wars was and always will be a kid’s movie. The default mode of watching the movies should be eyes wide and mouth agape with an interspersed “wow.” Taking in the original trilogy, it’s hard to escape this mode. Viewing the prequels . . . less so.
The Force Awakens does what a good Star Wars movie should and returns us to the shoes of our eight-year-old selves. Rey swinging around a Star Destroyer? Wowed me. The dogfights? Wowed me. Everything about BB-8? Wowed me. Every scene is another step into the larger world of the galaxy far, far away. Admittedly, it can be hard to see through the cloud of nostalgia, and when one does, some flaws emerge. Key relationships could have used more development to anchor our emotional investment. The third act feels cobbled together. There wasn’t a Jar-Jar cameo.
But you know what? Formal critiques like these don’t matter because this is Star Wars, and Star Wars is about fun. And, thanks to J.J., this movie is fun in a way Star Wars hasn’t been for a long time.
A- —Brendan McGuire ’16
I feel The Force Awakens addresses the Russia-Turkey confrontation in a lighthearted and surprisingly refreshing light. I was worried it might be a bit too preachy; however, the film elegantly summarized the complex geopolitical situation without blanketing over some rather important details. J.J. Abrams is a master storycrafter, and, while not a work of fiction, he manages to create an experience unlike any documentary or film I have seen in recent memory. I will be the first to admit that some of the obvious symbolism of the Force and how it relates to the growing need to combat ISIS was lost on me until a friend brought it up. After a second viewing, it became apparent I was the fool.
It was worth the second viewing. I await the sequel with bated breath.
B- —Angus Blaxall ’15
I really liked The Force Awakens, but it didn’t feel quite like a Star Wars movie to me. It certainly had enough lightsabers, blasters, a planet-destroying sphere, references to the Force, etc. Yet all these elements did not quite mesh together into the Star Wars I’ve always known and loved.
The futuristic style used to explain the 30-year gap since Return of the Jedi felt wrong. The Stormtrooper rifles and the TIE fighter wings had too much chrome coloring, and the ball-shaped BB-8 looked out of place (despite being adorable); I disliked the silly floppy-ear panels on the sides of the Imperial officer caps. All of this felt less like Star Wars, which is known for its gritty, unpolished look, and more like the more recent Star Trek films (also J.J. Abrams). What made this even weirder was the contrast with the utter lack of technology in some scenes, such as the basement to Maz’s cantina, where Rey finds Luke’s lightsaber in a room full of Victorian-looking chests.
The choice of planets was also peculiar. While paying homage to the original trilogy, The Force Awakens was also partly filmed in the British Isles, which I associate more with fantasy than sci-fi. The Resistance planet where Finn reunites with Poe—obviously a nod toward Yavin 4—was off, as was the final planet shot in a stone village off the Irish coast.
Smaller matters felt strange, too. The music was unmemorable for John Williams, and I didn’t like Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, nor the ending helicopter shot. The terms “Resistance” and “First Order” are too generic for Star Wars. However, the dialogue (especially Poe’s), and special effects were executed very well. Nonetheless, I recommend watching it if you haven’t . . . but please don’t be that guy who hasn’t watched the original trilogy first.
B- —Ben Williams ’18
My Star Wars story is a saga in reverse. Because I apparently lived under a rock for the first 20 years of my life, The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars movie I watched from beginning to end. Needless to say, the film was a total revelation for this bandwagon-jumper. I hastened to watch the entire series the week afterward, starting chronologically with The Phantom Menace.
Having taken this unconventional route to Star Wars fandom, my knee-jerk reaction to The Force Awakens is that George Lucas has a point about the film’s nostalgic pandering, though in the crudest terms possible. (“White slavers”? Oof.) More integrally, Episode VII carries over two of the three protagonist archetypes of the original trilogy: hotshot Poe Dameron steps in for Han Solo while Rey ratchets up Leia’s feisty-female-protagonist trope. But for this viewer, the nostalgia never devolved into schtick; rather, the nods to the original felt organic, almost necessary.
Though having Rey as the film’s protagonist is refreshing—a female Jedi in the spotlight, at last!—my biggest hope is for more character nuance in films to come. If Rey is prickly, why? And will J.J. Abrams maintain the balance between Rey’s femininity and grit without condescending to dismal, gold-bikini levels of objectification?
Rey deserves better than to be merely pigeonholed as the hot, kickass, female lead, as do the legions of young Star Wars fangirls who’ll grow up idolizing her. Take it from a girl who missed out.
A- —Hannah Edgar ’18