Time Out says
We're back to a galaxy far, far away in J.J. Abrams's rousing, pitch-perfect triumph—a feast of nostalgic blockbustering.
Not only expert homage for the fans but a first-rate, energized piece of mega-Hollywood adventure, the hugely anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens stirs more to life than just the Force. The rollicking, space-opera spirit of George Lucas’s original trilogy (you can safely forget the second trio of cynical, tricked-up prequels) emanates from every frame of J.J. Abrams's euphoric sequel. It’s also got an infusion of modern-day humor that sometimes steers the movie this close to self-parody—but never sarcastically, nor at the expense of a terrific time.
The wheel need not be reinvented: Virtually every plot point and action beat comes from 1977’s Star Wars or 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back (you even get a dormant lightsaber shivering in the snow), yet that’s perfectly fine when the vigor is this electric. Life is still a drag on arid desert planets like Jakku, where scrappy Rey (Daisy Ridley, a strong-jawed find) sells scavenged parts of old battle destroyers. Crash-landing onto her world is Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper shocked out of his violent path serving the evil First Order by an impulse to do the right thing. On the run, they hijack the decrepit Millennium Falcon—“The garbage will do,” says Rey in the first of many exhilarating reveals—and take off toward a radicalizing destiny in the Resistance.
Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8), a master mimic unafraid to revive Lucas’s old-school wipes and frame-gobbling spaceships, brings a light touch to the performances: There’s better acting in The Force Awakens than in all the Star Wars movies combined. BB-8, a whirling soccer-ball-like droid that plays like WALL-E’s mouthier cousin, might be best of the bunch—he’s a new high for cinema’s expressive machines (and a nod to Lucas’s love for gearhead invention). Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher bring unexpected pathos to roles they sometimes used to drift through. The graying hair helps.
But once again, a black-clad villain steals the show: Mystical Dark Sider Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wears the robes, face-obscuring helmet and ferocious demeanor of you know who, with a distorted basso bark that actually improves on the breathy squawk of James Earl Jones. Fortunately, the actor gets to do more than menace, steering the movie toward a heartbreaking scene of personal confusion that plays like a franchise high. Elsewhere—and hilariously—the film is crammed with those effete British-accented middle managers, gulping down fear in his presence. Quibblers who can’t recognize a labor of love will point to the same old fascism: a bigger Death Star, a scummier cantina. But it’s wonderful to be back at the bar.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew