It was a good film; an enjoyable, fluffy, popcorn, end-of-year, special-effects bonanza that is bound to make loads of cash, but it was not great in any way at all. Filled with a predictable and recycled storyline, predictable and clunky dialogue (noticed a trend?), mediocre to bad acting from the newbies, and boringly bland sets, music and cinematography, this film rides on the legacy of its original epic trilogy and succeeds because of the dismal tragedy of its prequels.
Granted, J.J. Abrams had a lot on his shoulders when he took on this behemoth and all things considering, he did a valiant job. Just not an outstanding one.
The film was obviously made for a four-quadrant audience with as much mass appeal as possible (read: simplicity). It had to pay homage to the original and acknowledged the mistakes of the prequels for the fanboys, and yet it need to hook in a whole new generation of audience for the large cinematic universe that Disney has planned. The latter is all without the large, built in fan base of the comic books industry - Marvel and D.C.
The problem is that script by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt was a rehash of the original just with the pieces moved around. The more cynical ones - like me - would even say that it was basically like any other generic Hollywood trope these days. There was nothing new nor refreshing about it. The storyline was contrived and kismetically-convenient to push the narrative forward; every plot point was predictable and sledgehammer-like foreshadowed. Worse still was the predictable, stale and cheesy dialogue that dulled down significant moments.
Abrams et al tried to emulate a Joss Whedeon-eque kind of banter but that was just sad and sadly funny. It did not work because of the lacked of chemistry between the cast and the chunkiness of the words.
Which brings us to the Abrams directorial effort. There is a certain off-rhythm kilt about the whole beat of the film. It seemed that Abrams was always just a quarter-to-half a beat slower than the action or the emotional resonance of the film.
As much as his use of CGI was much more controlled and more en naturel, none of the big fight/action sequences was overly memorable - either visually or narratively. There really was not anything refreshing or new or exciting. Up to a certain point, the endless homages, and wink-wink to fanboys, began to feel intrusive and annoying and just plain pandering. It showed how badly Abrams lacked in originality. Even the sets were a yawn. Especially that opening sequence. That whole prologue felt like it was filmed on a sounds stage!
However, the biggest crime by Abrams was his casting of the three leads. There is nothing wrong with casting newbies or actors in their virgin roles. Occasionally we get brilliant, standout, Oscar-nominating results. But Abrams does not have that quality as a director to bring that out in his cast, and unfortunately, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and the not-so-new Adam Driver are not natural born thespians. Often, and in particular with Ridley, their stiff acting brings us out of the film.
It is sad when the actors that are not seen can outshine the more visible cast with just their voice alone. Lupita Nyong'o exuded warmth, wisdom and wit; Gwendoline Christie has an indomitable physical presence and a voice to match; Andy Serkis - master of the motion capture - was just terrifying (although still slightly comical).
Harrison Ford no doubt shone the brightest of the actors in person. He has an effortless charm and commands the screen. His scenes opposite Ridley greatly shows off her inexperience and sadly wooden acting. It was only when Hans Solo appear does the film really kick off into high gear.
Oscar Isaac was another standout. Here is a hero - unlike Rey and Finn - who we can really root for and who we want to win. Although he was reduced to playing third of fourth fiddle here. Pity and a waste, and hopefully a bigger role in the sequels for Isaac (but please, not as Rey's love interest - be original!).
Ridley, as aforementioned, still needs to brush up on her acting particularly when she is in the frame but is not the focus. Whenever that happens you can tell that she just freezes up and remained wooden until she is asked to react. However, she has talent which was evident when we see her close up or a reaction shot. And I believe that she has a gift for physical comedy.
Boyega was slightly better. His strengths laid in his comedy but he still needs to develop more to handle any emotional heft beyond "I feel bad".
Boyega and Ridley were paired off early and there are inklings of potential romance between the pair, however it all seemed forced. There were not many moments of natural chemistry between them which then strained the credibility of their partnership.
And then we have Adam Driver. Not a stranger to some viewers - and an Emmy nominated actor too. But he was miscast as Kylo Ren. He lacked the presence to be an effective villain. When he removed his mask, there was even a glimmer of menace or terror. More comedy actually. And hopefully his arc through the sequels will show us his growth from what really is a petulant man-child now.
Domhnall Gleeson was a more effective villain and really just stole the scenes with Driver. Hope to see more of him and Isaac in the sequels.
Lastly. we have John Williams' anaemic score. Maybe Abrams should have passed the scoring duties to his other long time collaborator Michael Giacchino? William's score lacked epicness. Perhaps he was let down by poor sound mixing/editing, but throughout the film, the score constantly reminded us how un-exciting everything was.
In all, this was a good film to spend the holidays in. But will it be remembered in the future? At least the prequels will be - for how bad they were. The rest of the sequels will now definitely play a larger role in shaping the future of this franchise.
3D not necessary. And really, IMAX wasn't too.