Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” Is Great But Doesn’t Live up to the Hype

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WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.

I tried to avoid “The Force Awakens” hype as much as I could, which meant the only things I knew about it came from the trailers and the special from “60 Minutes.” However, I couldn’t help seeing its Rotten Tomatoes score, which tied it with “The Empire Strikes Back,” regarded to be the best in the series, with a score of 94 percent the day before. So my expectations soared.

Turns out it would’ve been better if I hadn’t seen that.

The film is great, but it doesn’t live up to the hype. While it has new, strong characters, the return of classic characters, top-notch special effects and a timeless score, “The Force Awakens” has the same flaw as almost every other “Star Wars” movie: the plot. Except this time, those flaws feel too familiar.

Watching the previews, I figured one of two things: Either the film would rely too much on nostalgia, or the nostalgia was just a tease, and the movie would make only small references to it. Turns out, it was somehow a combination of both. The film references the original trilogy plenty, which can be too distracting, but those references don’t come in until at least half an hour into the movie, when the protagonists, Rey and Finn, are forced to steal a ship from a junkyard — a ship that turns out to be the Millennium Falcon.

It often feels like director JJ Abrams makes references to the original for the fans rather than for the plot. It makes sense, given this is the seventh film of the saga and the eighth movie overall, but I doubt it will win over any first-timers. The allusions to the previous films are not so much references as they are plot points borrowed from the other films.

Orphan living on a desert planet? Check.

A droid containing vital information that is recovered by said orphan? Check

Characters being captured and taken aboard a space station that could destroy planets? Check.

Father/son issues? Check.

What is great about Abrams sticking to what is known is how the scenes were filmed. “A New Hope” was groundbreaking with technology, and the prequel trilogy was as well, though it wasn’t as well-received because critics agreed that Lucas relied too much on special effects.

Abrams doesn’t rely on CGI that much, and this makes the audience feel more involved. Explosions, most interior, and even the main droid, BB8, are all real.

The film’s humor is distracting, with one-liners that are not as original or clever as they could’ve been. But there are some funny scenes, and the film gave me the biggest laugh I’ve ever had during a “Star Wars” movie (in a good way).

The new characters, while taking cues from previous characters, still feel fresh. The original trilogy was exclusively a white male cast (save for two main characters and aliens). The prequel trilogy tried to diversify a bit, but they were background characters. This film’s protagonists are a woman and a black man, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) give new life to the saga.

However, there are clearly signs of the film living in the original’s shadow. The main villain, Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) wears a voice-altering mask and has several clear parallels with Darth Vader.

The film’s ending was possibly the best part of the story. It sets up the upcoming sequels in a masterful way. There is no dialogue towards the end, which makes it even more powerful.

So while the film doesn’t live up to the hype, “The Force Awakens” is still great on its own. It sometimes pays too much homage to the previous films, but there are still new things for audiences to enjoy. I highly recommend it to any “Star Wars” fan, not that “Star Wars” fans need convincing.

c.ayers@dailyutahchronicle.com

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