Star Wars is back: The Force Awakens is as awesome as you hoped it would be

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A sci-fi spectacle firmly rooted in what it means to be human.
A sci-fi spectacle firmly rooted in what it means to be human.
Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm

If we ignore the prequels (and, heck, who doesn’t), there hasn’t been a solid Star Wars film in 32 years.

That’s all about to change if film critics reviewing the new film in the franchise, The Force Awakens, are right. The first reviews are in and boy, are they positive. While a few reviewers point out some valid flaws in the nostalgia machine, even the “negative” reviews are fairly upbeat.

Here’s our spoiler-free roundup of some of the best reviews out there so far.

The Good

Todd McCarthy from the Hollywood Reporter calls the new film a “franchise reawakened,” giving credit to JJ Abrams, who has obvious love for all things Star Wars, mentioning the “obvious care that has gone into every aspect of the production, from the well-balanced screenplay and dominance of real sets and models over computer graphics to the casting, a strict limitation on self-referential, in-jokey humor and the thoroughly refreshed feel of John Williams’ exuberant score.”

CNN Money‘s Frank Pallotta says that “the latest chapter is the best film in the series since the original trilogy,” full of the “excitement, dread and joy that have been hallmarks of the franchise since the original film in 1977.” Pallotta also lays the honor at director Abrams’ feet, saying that JJ understands what Star Wars is.

Popular Science photo director Thomas Payne piles on the praise, as well, saying that The Force Awakens “has the soul and feel and humor and character interactions that everyone loved from the original trilogy,” while still celebrating diversity in a good way.

“The three leads are reflecting a diverse humanity. There’s someone representing everyone,” he writes.

At The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern lauds Abrams and Disney for the exact opposite of what many superfans feared Disney would do to the franchise, calling it a “sugar-free, spice-rich script” written by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt. While the end of Return of the Jedi featured cute little teddy bears, The Force Awakens has no such Ewoks.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis says that the new film “delivers the thrills with a touch of humanity” in her review. It reminds us all that Star Wars is about balance–between the old and new, stasis and kinesis, scale vs humanity. “…it also has appealingly imperfect men and women whose blunders and victories,” she writes, “decency and goofiness remind you that a pop mythology like ‘Star Wars’ needs more than old gods to sustain it.”

You can practically hear the John Williams theme here.
You can practically hear the John Williams theme here.
Photo: Disney/Lucasfilm

The Meh

Like many other early reviewers, Michael Phillips from the Chicago Tribune (home of the late, great critic Gene Siskel) applauds Daisy Ridley’s turn in the film, calling her “a first-rate heroine in the making.” While the Tribune’s review isn’t as bullish on the film as other outlets, it does tell us that the reason The Force Awakens works is because “the actors all get a little piece of the action,” writes Phillips. “Sounds like a no-brainer, but so many effects-driven spectacles really don’t care about the faces on screen.”

Stephanie Zacharek from Time offers up her own take on the film, saying that it’s perfectly adequate. “…somewhere along the way,” she writes, “Abrams begins delivering everything we expect, as opposed to those nebulous wonders we didn’t know we wanted.” While this sounds a bit like the latest iPhone haters who get angry when each iteration of the new hardware isn’t magical and unicorn-like, we can forgive Zacharek her damning praise. The Force Awakens has been, in fact, a long time coming, and expectations are high.

LA Times‘ critic Kenneth Turan also mixes his admiration of the film with some issues he calls out, like uneven pacing and hit-and-miss scripting. “The Force Awakens,” writes Turan, “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.” We’ll forgive Turan for his rather flat review, though it’s hard to forgive him for that obvious pun.

Roger Moore at Movie Nation says the film is good enough, but blames it all on our collective joy at the Star Wars of days past. “But “The Force Awakens” boils down to a couple of genuine lump-in-the-throat moments,” writes Moore, “and those are due to nostalgia. The rest? Seen it, done it, been there, and remember it — even though it was ‘a long time ago.'” Does anyone else think that writers who like to use puns to lighten their criticism just really don’t get it?

As the reviews continue to flood the market, there’ll be more positive, middling, and bad reviews, along with more analysis than you can shake a stick at. Based on these early reviews, however, it’s hard to believe that The Force Awakens won’t become another classic in an already mythological franchise. What do you think?