NO SPOILERS! This review is going to be quite unfocused and basically represent my thoughts as of this very moment.
First off, no Ewoks, which means it’s an automatic 0/10.
In all seriousness, here’s the TL;DR version for all of you who only care about if it’s good or not: It’s good.
I’m not sure that it’s great, time will tell that, but damn it feels good to watch such a fulfilling, exciting, funny and tense movie like this. Is it as good as the originals? Hell fucking no, not even close. Those movies are fucking pop culture institutions, nothing will ever get close to matching the quality of those, everything was literally perfect when they made those. A modern movie with modern movie-making sensibilities simply cannot compare to something mythical like the originals. But the magic is definitely here.
But before you get all jumpy and cry about Star Wars being great again, I’ll have to tell you that there are problems with it. Not big ones, but some that confirm my fears about J.J. Abrams. There’s a hell of a lot of his “Mystery Box” stuff going on, where the audience is basically constantly trying to piece together the twist before it happens. And since a large part of the cast play new characters with no predefined backstories, there’s tons of potential to interpret shit into things that never materialize.
There is one reveal that tries to be bigger than it actually is, though it leads to a scene in the movie that, to put it mildly, will be very divisive for fans. Some will applaud it for its boldness, others will detest it for having the gall to actually go there. And no, I’m not kidding, this is the type of moment that can split a community. You’ll see it when it’s there.
And that “you’ll see it when it’s there” is meant very literally. Lots of stuff is telegraphed from a mile away. There are reveals here that were basically no-brainers for me. This is because the movie basically pulls doubly duty to be an exciting fresh kickstart to an aging franchise as well as being a nostalgia trip for long-time fans. It checks off all the marks it thinks fans want to see and there is a hint of the prequel spirit in there. And by that I don’t mean that they’re in any way as crappy as those. But in a behind-the-scenes bit, Lucas highlighted how the movies are intended as “poetry, each installment rhyming with another one” and this movie definitely tries to go there as well, though it’s a bit more successful.
And I feel that the movie could’ve been better if it had ditched some of the fan-servicey stuff and instead had given some of the new characters more screen time for actual character development. Because as I see it, the movie, which is 135 minutes long, would’ve actually taken 3 hours to be properly paced. It sort of races between the exciting elements since it wastes time massaging our nostalgia for so long.
Still, there’s some amazing stuff in this and I’m sure glad that the movie was in 3D and I had these huge glasses on, because when the phrase “May the Force be with you” is spoken, I choked up like a little bitch, that was the moment the movie came closest to feeling like the originals.
And to give credit where credit is due, the characters are all very well written, with lots of funny dialogue in between. It only highlights how the prequels managed to fuck everything up by not having characters be able to make jokes or sarcastic quips. Noteworthy is that the new characters are in no way pushed to the sidelines by the big heavy hitters we’re obviously there to see. Sure it’s amazing to see Han, Leia, Chewie and some others again, but Finn and especially Rey are great characters. Daisy Ridley as Rey is fucking fantastic and I immediately fell in love with her as a character, just awesome from start to finish. But John Boyega also does a tremendous job as Finn and has tons of great character turns that make him endearing. And BB-8 is obviously going to be a new fan-favorite.
But I know, you want to know about the bad guys. And here’s where the movie somewhat stumbles. Kylo Ren doesn’t have a lot going for him. It’s not like he’s Vader and has little to no backstory, the movie tries to give him this internal struggle through lots and lots of somewhat forced character development. Though it is really interesting to see the new interpretation of the dark side in him basically being a petulant child who simply cannot control his anger. The First Order is even more like the Nazis than the Empire was in the originals and there’s this pointless seeming feud between Kylo Ren and a general of the First Order. It sort of tries to go back to the original Star Wars, where Vader wasn’t this all-powerful right hand of the Emperor. He was clearly being ordered around by other people and openly contested by his peers.
On a final note: The lightsaber battles are really good. None of that kung-fu somersault bullshit from the prequels, just good old original trilogy fights. They’re fun to watch and very exciting. The only downside is that they’re not as emotionally and narratively charged as in the originals. There, each battle represented something within the story. In this new one a little bit less so.
But in the end, it’s still a great and extremely entertaining movie made with the best intentions. It shows that the creators were very much aware of fan expectations and try to fulfill them. And the sequel hook is executed quite nicely. Also, to save you guys some time: There’s no post-credits scene in this movie. I might expand on these thoughts some more later, since this was a midnight screening and it was in German. I’ll probably see the noon screening tomorrow (which is in less than 9 hours) and watch it again in English.