For me, Star Wars has a very simple proposition, and that’s to entertain me. The much derided prequels didn’t quite do that, especially the dreadful Attack of the Clones. They were mostly dull despite having some over the top visual effects, an expanded universe to play around with, and a different story arc that involved Anakin Skywalkers fall to the Dark Side.
The Force Awakens fails me in the opposite way: Staying too close to the original trilogy, in particular, A New Hope.
(Mostly spoiler-free opinion/review to follow, but proceed at your own risk)
From the start, you can see the parallels to the 1977 movie: A droid, BB-8, has the map to the Death ST- I mean, Luke Skywalker, who has disappeared for some time, and the remnants of the old Empire under a new name, the First Order, are out to get that map piece.
Droid goes into the possession of an unlikely character of lowly station? Check.
Droid needs to be delivered to the good guys? Check.
Cantina scene? Check.
Final fight with a countdown to destroy the bad guy’s superweapon? Check.
There are others, but due to spoilers, I won’t mention them.
J.J. Abrams and his team clearly tried to mix up the formula a little, starting with Finn, a character whose origin in the movie was something I thought was a clever touch. Having a female lead in Rey was great too. However with the major themes and arcs following so closely with the originals, it meant that the movie was already stale to begin with. Star Wars by no means was truly original, but it made enough tweaks to the material it was dervied from that it felt fresh. The Force Awakens is too close to a re-tread that through most of the show I simply did not get any emotional rise in any of the scenes.
The movie also lacks a great villain. The Darth Vader stand-in, Kylo Ren, has too much of Hayden Christiansen’s petulant Anakin Skywalker to feel truly menacing, and the Emperor analogue, played by a motion capture Andy Serkis (he’s pretty much a ink suit actor now), reminds me too much of Voldemort.
The fight and battle scenes, which made a somewhat mediocre Return of the Jedi enjoyable, felt so by-the-numbers as well. It’s amazing despite seeing TIE Fighters and X-Wings in updated designs mixing it up again, I did not get the same thrill, the I-want-to-be-there feeling I’d otherwise get from similar scenes. It feels like the pace is a little off, and the music for the battles, oh, the music…
The score is another let-down: Beyond the original leitmotifs that pop up from time to time, the rest of the it is completely forgettable. Right now I cannot even hum to you anything from the new pieces of music. As anyone who watched memorable battle scenes, the score contributes a lot, and this time, the only thing the new score contributes is that same underwhelming feeling I got from most of the show.
Notice I have not nitpicked on plot implausibilities and leaps of logic that can derail most scripts. Star Wars has always required some degree of disbelief, even in the original trilogy, but in trading that it got you one hell of a ride. This one… not so much.
It is a shame too, because there were a few good ideas. I like the camaraderie between Finn and Poe (who could have done with more screen time), and as mentioned, having a female lead in Rey as a potential Jedi candidate is great. But so much of it is let down by the been-there-done-that feeling, which is a shame, as J.J. Abrams has shown with Star Trek, he can go boldly where no man has gone before if he wanted to. Perhaps it’s true then: Fear, especially of rabid disapproving Star Wars fanboys, does lead down the Dark Side (of underwhelming movies at least).