Review: Film covers its bases, but soars only occasionally.
It’s at its best only in fits and starts; Harrison Ford shines
Can the eager first-day viewers of the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” trailer who saw it 112 million times online be all wrong?
What about the true believers who purchased $50 million plus in advance tickets? Can they be mistaken too?
They’re not, but they can be only half-right, which is what they turn out to be.
The most hotly anticipated movie since “Gone With the Wind,” has an erratic, haphazard quality to it. Though a definite improvement on the last three abortive “Star Wars” prequels directed by series creator George Lucas, “The Force Awakens” is only at its best in fits and starts, its success dependent on who of its mix of franchise veterans and first-timers is on the screen.
Director J.J. Abrams and fellow screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have come up with some potent new characters and outstanding moments. When all goes as partisans hoped it would, you’re glad you’re in the room.
But “The Force Awakens” is also burdened by casting miscalculations and scenes that are flat and ineffective. Sometimes the Force is with this film, sometimes it decidedly is not.
That hit-and-miss quality was likely unavoidable given that Abrams and company needed to please different masters and satisfy diverse audiences in this story (set 30 years after “Return of the Jedi”) of a search for mysteriously missing Luke Skywalker, part of an ongoing battle between good and evil.
Job One was passing the “Star Wars” torch to a new generation of actors while simultaneously ensuring that appropriate respect be paid to those who’d come before and helped the series earn $4.4 billion in worldwide gross. And both of those had to be done in the context of a story line that fit within an established cosmos bound by a lot of rules and conventions.
What this meant in practice is an overcomplicated plot and characters that carefully echo the first three “Star Wars” movies. At its best “The Force Awakens” basks in the presence of a splendid Harrison Ford, who has a rip-roaring leading role rather than a cameo.
“The Force Awakens” begins with that familiar crawl placing events “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” followed by even more words bringing us up to speed. The evil Empire has been replaced by the even more evil First Order, the Republic continues to fight the good fight, and everyone wonders where Luke Skywalker has been hiding for all these years.
The plot begins with ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) making a trip to the junkyard planet of Jakku to get a device with clues about Skywalker from local elder Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow, of all people).
On the verge of being captured by major evildoer and Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Poe secretes the device inside a cute little rolling droid named BB-8 and tells it to keep out of trouble. Fat chance.
Helping Poe escape from the evildoers, including Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, is Finn (John Boyega of “Attack the Block”), a former Stormtrooper who has had enough of the First Order ordering him around. Both men return to Jakku so Poe can retrieve the device. They get separated, and Finn runs into the brightest of the film’s new cast members, young British actress Daisy Ridley, who plays a Jakku scavenger named Rey.
Ridley’s spunky daredevil presence is exactly what the part calls for.
Pitching (in motion capture) for the good guys is Lupita Nyong’o, who shines as 1,000-year-old Maz Kanata, who runs an establishment strongly reminiscent of the first film’s Mos Eisley Cantina.
At a certain point, Rey and Finn get hold of the legendary Millennium Falcon and team up with the ship’s original crew, Solo and Chewbacca, and the action begins in earnest.
Ford has been here before, and it shows. His “It’s all true” speech, featured in the trailer, is a highlight, and his scene kinda offering Rey a job is the film’s intergenerational high spot. Too bad all of “The Force Awakens” can’t be that way, but even in galaxies far, far away, things don’t always go as planned.
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca and Harrison Ford as Han Solo return to the screen in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie opens today.
Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”