Star Wars The Force Awakens: what the critics say

Spoiler alert: it's good! (apparently)

December 16, 2015
Fans cheer in the stands at world premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. © Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
Fans cheer in the stands at world premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. © Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP
[I believe I've avoided serious spoilers, but if you want to be extra-careful, perhaps it's best to avoid this piece]

The reviews are in for J J Abrams's seventh installment of the galactic-scale sci fi saga and, in the words of the New York Times, "spoiler alert... it's good!" As one of the most anticipated blockbusters of all time, there was a big danger of disappointment, but that now seems unlikely, with plenty of five-star writeups across the papers. Here are five takeaways from the critics.

Resisting the dark side

Since Christopher Nolan unleashed his brooding Batman on the world, there's been a playbook for big sci fi blockbusters which says that everything has to be dark. Glowing, tortured heroes. Sadistic, humourless villains. The inception noise. It sounds like Abrams has  resisted the temptation to take Star Wars in the same direction. "The Force Awakens makes you forget about the redundancy and pedantry of the prequel-trilogy that came 15 years later," writes Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian, "it restores the comedy that Phantom Menace abandoned. The Force Awakens is in touch with the force of action-adventure and fun."

One for the fans

It sounds like Force Awakens is strong in its own right, but Abrams clearly hasn't forgotten his obligation to the fans. The original trilogy's Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are back as Han Solo and Princess Leia, and get rave writeups. Fisher is "the warrior queen of the resistance—a tougher and more grandmotherly figure," says the Guardian, "and when Han Solo and Chewie come on, I had a feeling in the cinema I haven’t had since I was 16: not knowing whether to burst into tears or into applause."

A British invasion

The film breaks two new British stars; Daisy Ridley, who plays orphan scavenger Rey, and John Boyega, playing regretful, reformed stormtrooper Finn. It sounds like neither disappoints—a relief given the exceptional rate of pre-movie publicity pumped out about Ridley in particular. The Guardian compares her to a young Keira Knightley, while the Times praises his comic timing. Several reviewers also pick up on the heartening fact that in a blockbuster world still dominated by white men, these two, as the New York Times puts it, "look more like the multitudes humankind contains, a genuine diversity too infrequently represented in our movies.

Where's Luke?

The critics have largely been careful to steer clear of spoilers, so we don't know too much about the role of Luke Skywalker in the film—a subject of much speculation in the lead up to its release given Mark Hamill's absence from the poster. The Telegraph, though, does reveal that "the film’s familiar opening crawl of golden text reveals that Skywalker vanished shortly after the events of Return of the Jedi," and several reviewers detail how a push to track him down drives part of the narrative. Nobody lets slip whether he has fallen to the dark side (as some have feared) but based on Peter Bradshaw's Guardian piece my guess is that he hasn't: "Luke has been famously absent from the poster for this film, which led me to fear at first that over the past 30 years... he had gone over to the dark side. Suffice it to say that Luke, played by a now grizzled Mark Hamill, is a potent but unwontedly enigmatic presence," he writes.

Good bad guys

Darth Vader, principal evildoer of the original trilogy, has gone down in history as one of the greatest movie villains ever and was a big driver of the series's success. Conversely, much of the reason the prequel films missed the mark were their two-dimensional pantomime baddies, from spooky weirdo Darth Maul to Christopher Lee's supremely pointless Count Dooku and, worst of all, General Grevious, a robot who inexplicably had a cough. It sounds like the antagonists this time round are back on track. The Telegraph thrills over the enigmatic Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), "a hot-headed, radicalised Dark Side jihadi... To describe Kylo Ren as this film’s Vader would be accurate in a sense... but it would also be to undersell the deep ingenuity with which this astonishing character has been crafted." Several reviews reference the Nuremberg-esque rallies which evil organisation the First Order stage.