Star Wars: The Force Awakens is absolutely epic in some regards. It is a worthy cannon sequel, far superior to the maligned prequels. It is also maddeningly contrived and breezy when exposition is needed. There are moments that will floor you with exhilaration, perfectly capturing the magic of the saga. Then it dips like a downward roller coaster, building up steam to the next significant plot twist. There are twists galore. Disney should be put in charge of protecting every important secret. The fact that nothing has leaked is an amazing feat. The Force Awakens has titanic reveals that will have fandom foaming with hysteria. This is a spoiler free review. I will address the overall story arc, performances, and production value. Do yourselves a favor and avoid key spoilers. They do not disappoint.

The opening crawl, cue the goosebumps, affirm what has been generally expected. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been missing for some time. The First Order, essentially The Empire reloaded, is obsessed with finding him. Leading the charge is a powerful apprentice of the dark side, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and a military officer, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). They are jockeying for power under the instruction of a mysterious dark lord, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They find worthy adversaries in a Resistance pilot (Oscar Isaac), a disillusioned storm trooper (John Boyega), and an extremely resourceful scavenger (Daisy Ridley). Their cat and mouse chase runs parallel to the launch of a weapon that will change the fate of the galaxy.

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Director J.J. Abrams, much like his reboot of Star Trek, knows the value of cast chemistry. Star Wars, at the base level, is a gripping character drama. The Force Awakens takes new players, instrumental in the archetypal battle between good and evil, and blends them seamlessly into the existing characters dynamic. Adam Driver is superb as Kylo Ren; a sinister, conflicted figure, with a twisted sense of hero worship. He is a captivating and ruthless villain. Equally as good is Daisy Ridley as Rey. She is the star of this new trilogy, a heroine for the ages, astonishing in her first film. Abrams has truly plucked a diamond from the rough.

The Force Awakens is a nonstop action film with a shotgun pace. There are gun battles, vertigo inducing dog fights, and spectacular, jaw-dropping lightsaber duels. Everything that you want to see in a Star Wars film is here in spades and covered in gasoline. I firmly understand why George Lucas proclaimed that this movie is for the fans. It doesn't have any of the clunky dialogue, sappy romance, or political intrigue that doomed the prequels. The visual effects, production design, and sound are a cinematic adrenalin rush. The Millennium Falcon swooping through a derelict star destroyer. Tie Fighters blasting away in hot pursuit. John Williams soaring score pumping your blood like a throttle. It's as if the cotton candy machine is plugged directly into your face.

At first blush, The Force Awakens easily lives up to its mammoth hype. But it is not flawless. It will take multiple viewings to truly digest. The Force Awakens is not better than the original trilogy. That's an almost unrealistic expectation. It does fall prey to quick resolves. A few problems are glaring. I believe some fans will criticize The Force Awakens for following the structure of A New Hope too closely. That's fair, but I counter in saying we're only getting the initial crumbs of a new storyline. For all that's learned in this film, there are many unanswered questions. This is the hook that reels you in for episode eight. Every Star Wars fan should feel overjoyed. J.J. Abrams hasn't built a better train. He's put the existing one back on the correct track. 2017 can't come soon enough.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman