What the Critics Are Saying About Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Photo: Lucasfilm

You may have heard that the Force will be awakening on December 18. To provide an outlet for our excitement, we've assembled another Vulture Advent Calendar — in this case, 25 Star Wars–themed stories, one per day until Christmas. None of them will involve midi-chlorians.

The home stretch is upon us, we've finally made it! After years and years of waiting patiently (and eagerly clinging to any developments and news we could get our hands on), Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be making its way into theaters across the country this Friday. Critics screened the film earlier this week, and with the reviews rolling in, we've compiled a roundup of what they're saying — and in an effort to be as spoiler-free as possible, we only included parts that don't specifically talk about the plot.

In short: Exhale, they're loving it.

"Now, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams does a good imitation of George Lucas circa 1977. He and co-writers Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan (who co-wrote by far the best of the series, The Empire Strikes Back) merge old and new streams, mixing Han Solo, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and others into a newish plot centering on young ’uns Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega). The movie has already blown away advance-sale records, and when you go (which, of course, you will) I bet you’ll have fun — I did, mostly. But it’s the fun of seeing something fairly successfully redone, with the promise of more of the same to come. It’s a fan’s wet dream and a modern studio’s, too. It says where money is concerned, the galaxy’s the limit." —David Edelstein, Vulture

“From the first few minutes, or even the first few frames, JJ Abrams’s exciting, spectacular and seductively innocent Star Wars: The Force Awakens shows itself a movie in the spirit of the original trilogy, which ended with Return of the Jedi in 1983. (This one takes up the story 30 years later.) ... The Force Awakens re-awoke my love of the first movie and turned my inner fanboy into my outer fanboy. There are very few films which leave me facially exhausted after grinning for 135 minutes, but this is one. 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.” —Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Reinvigorating the franchise with a welcome surge of energy, warmth and excitement after the misbegotten cycle of prequels released between 1999 and 2005, incoming writer-director J.J. Abrams seems to have had the original three films firmly in mind when he embarked on this monumental new undertaking, structured as a series of clever if sometimes wobbly callbacks to a trilogy that captivated a global audience and helped cement Hollywood’s blockbuster paradigm. Still, the reassuring familiarity of Abrams’ approach has its limitations: Marvelous as it is to catch up with Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the gang, fan service takes priority here over a somewhat thin, derivative story that, despite the presence of two appealing new stars, doesn’t exactly fire the imagination anew. ... In the end, Star Wars: The Force Awakens suggests the work of a filmmaker who faced the exciting yet unenviable task of partially reassembling one of the most beloved ensembles in movie history, furthering their characters’ adventures in a meaningful fashion, and helping them pass the baton from one generation of action figures to the next — and emerged, in the end, with a compromise solution that, even when it’s not firing on all cylinders, has been put across with sufficient style, momentum, love and care to prove irresistible to any who have ever considered themselves fans. Risking heresy, it’s worth noting that Abrams actually did smarter, more inventive work on his 2009 reboot of 'Star Trek,' no doubt in part because he was working with a less heavily guarded enterprise.” —Justin Chang, Variety

“That old Star Wars magic is back. Set aside worries about the second coming of The Phantom Menace. With a cast of entertaining new characters, heartfelt scenes, huge planetary battles and no qualms about being very funny or very dark at times, director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens returns the iconic sci-fi franchise to a glorious place that hasn’t been seen since Ewoks danced off into victory in Return of the Jedi 32 years ago...The Force Awakens reveals surprising connections, begins a few bromances, solves mysteries while digging up others, and sets a strong tone for what comes next in Star Wars lore. Best of all? It’ll make you feel like a kid being introduced to something truly special once again.” —Brian Truitt, USA Today

“Whether Abrams’ obsessive-compulsive relationship to George Lucas’ 1977 original works for you is a subjective question, of course. You can choose to understand ‘The Force Awakens’ as an embrace of the mythological tradition, in which the same stories recur over and over with minor variations. Or you can see it as the ultimate retreat into formula: ‘Let’s just make the same damn movie they loved so much the first time!’ There are moments when it feels like both of those things, profound and cynical, deeply satisfying and oddly empty. This is the work of a talented mimic or ventriloquist who can just about cover for the fact that he has nothing much to say. He has made an adoring copy of ‘Star Wars,’ seeking to correct its perceived flaws, without understanding that nothing about that movie’s context or meaning or enormous cultural impact can be duplicated.” —Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

“For all the excellence and good cheer of The Force Awakens, its signature achievement is its ability to return us to that real world of those first three Star Wars films. Suddenly, as if nothing has happened, as if 30-plus years have happened in a blink, we are back. George Lucas’s prequels barely felt as if they had any connection to the original films at all—they were like watching an aging lounge starlet fail to remember the words to her famous songs right after being hit in the head with something blunt and heavy. But The Force Awakens is a wondrous magic trick, a piece of pop art that both conjures up long-forgotten memories and attempts to incept new ones. ... Much of this magic is a conjuring from American cinema’s great mimic, J.J. Abrams, a man you wouldn’t trust to create anything particularly original on his own—his sole original property as a filmmaker, Super 8, played like a bad Spielberg cover band—but Abrams is precisely the person you want to save the franchise. Star Wars, a culture phenomenon so powerful and encompassing that it has become a sort of public trust, needed fixing—we needed to be reconnected to it in a way Lucas himself proved unable to achieve. More than anything, Abrams is a fan, like we are, and he approaches Star Wars with the exact right mix of awe and purpose." —Will Leitch, The New Republic

“Nearly 40 years after ‘Star Wars’ exploded the pop culture universe and practically became a religion for generations of fans, and a full decade after many of those same fans felt betrayed and defeated by ‘Revenge of the Sith,’ the seventh ‘Star Wars’ movie could well bear the same subtitle as the original: ‘A New Hope.’ What a beautiful, thrilling, joyous, surprising and heart-thumping adventure this is. ‘The Force Awakens’ pops with memorable battle sequences, gives us chills with encore appearances by stars from the original trilogy and introduces more than a half-dozen terrific Next Generation characters. If the U.S. presidential election were held this weekend, director-producer-co-writer J.J. Abrams might carry the day based on geek support alone." —Richard Roeper, the Chicago Sun-Times

“J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens delivers exactly what you want it to: rollicking adventure wrapped in epic mythology, a perfect amount of fan service that fires your geekiest synapses, and a just-right cliffhanger ending that paves the way for future installments. In a way, Abrams has accomplished exactly what he did with 2009’s Star Trek. He took a worshiped pop-culture franchise with a rabid legion of disciples, treated it with respect, and made it matter again. ... When The Force Awakens ends, it feels bittersweet simply because you so badly want to get to the next chapter. So, yes, the wait is over. But now a new waiting game begins …” —Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“‘The Force Awakens’ strikes all the right chords, emotional and narrative, to feel both familiar and exhilaratingly new. Filled with incident, movement and speed, dusted with light layers of tarnished ‘used future’ grime, it captures the kinetic energy that made the first film, from 1977, such a revelation to filmgoers who marveled at Lucas’s mashup of B movies, Saturday-morning serials, Japanese historical epics and mythic heft. What’s more, Abrams has united the original cast with a group of newcomers who mesh seamlessly with their elders, in an ensemble effort that brims with the chops and brio of a great jam session. He’s gotten the band back together in a perfectly balanced performance of oldies and new riffs, respecting all that’s come before but never getting mired in minutiae or fatuous nostalgia.” —Ann Hornaday, the Washington Post

“There’s a very good chance that most diehard Star Wars fans are going to love The Force Awakens. They’re going to love it because it’s been made to their exact specifications, relayed through years of constructive criticism and very vocal bellyaching. Gone are the senatorial tariff debates, slapstick alien mascots, and stiff Jedi banter that characterized George Lucas’ commercially successful but widely maligned prequel trilogy. As directed by professional franchise custodian J.J. Abrams, this seventh installment goes back to the basics of what made the series the most popular in movie history. Like, all the way back: The Force Awakens borrows so much from the 1977 original—environments, relationship dynamics, action scenes, even a basic plot structure—that it often resembles a remake as much as a straight sequel. But for plenty of viewers, any misgivings about originality will go out the window the minute Han Solo and Chewbacca saunter back into the Millennium Falcon, or that rousing John Williams score rises over new images for the first time in a decade. ... What Abrams has done is strip Star Wars down to its core components, rearranging the stuff people liked about the original trilogy and getting rid of what they hated about the rest. (Don’t hold your breath for a Jar Jar cameo, in other words.)” —A.A. Dowd, AV Club

“The big news about ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is — spoiler alert — that it’s good! Despite the prerelease hype, it won’t save the world, not even Hollywood, but it seamlessly balances cozy favorites — Harrison Ford, ladies and gentlemen — and new kinetic wows along with some of the niceties that went missing as the series grew into a phenomenon, most crucially a scale and a sensibility that is rooted in the human. It has the usual toy-store-ready gizmos and critters, but it also has appealingly imperfect men and women whose blunders and victories, decency and goofiness remind you that a pop mythology like ‘Star Wars’ needs more than old gods to sustain it. ... You could call Mr. Abrams a love child of Mr. Lucas and Mr. Spielberg, born to the blockbuster world they helped make.” —Manohla Dargis, the New York Times

“Disney, the new proprietor, and J.J. Abrams, the director, haven’t diluted the appeal of this space opera for the ages. Far from it, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ flatters old and new audiences alike, and straddles generations with aplomb. ‘You’re Han Solo?’ asks the startled young heroine, Rey, after the gallant old guy has come aboard a battered old spaceship—the Millennium Falcon, of course—that she, a scavenger by trade but also a pilot, has chanced to purloin. (Rey is played, dazzlingly, by Daisy Ridley.) ‘I used to be,’ Han replies with a small, sardonic grin owned solely by Harrison Ford. Rarely have age and shining youth been juxtaposed more affectingly, but that’s only one of many moments of grace in a movie that mines its resonant mythology while moving its story ever forward.” —Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

“It’s not a bad strategy — what is Creed, after all, if not a contemporary re-do of Rocky? — and Abrams and company bring enough verve to the proceedings to create some wonderfully exciting moments alongside the reunions and the revelations. There are some slower bits, and an ending designed to leave you wanting more, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tingle in my neck at the familiar opening of Williams’ score. ... Fans will be most relieved to know that there are no Ewoks, no Jar Jar Binks, no midi-chlorians, no ‘Yippee!’ Abrams had the benefit of learning what didn’t work in Lucas’ prequels, and he’s gone in the opposite direction. He’s also set an interesting course for moving forward with this engaging cast playing new characters making their way through this beloved universe.” —Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“The Force is back. Big time. As the best Star Wars anything — film, TV show, video game, spinoff, what-have-you — in at least 32 years, Star Wars: The Force Awakens pumps new energy and life into a hallowed franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions. But whereas the fundamental touchstones of George Lucas' original creation remain, in director J.J. Abrams' hands there is a shift in tone that brings the material closer to the feel of a Steven Spielberg film. Specifically, into an Indiana Jones realm, which is mostly, but not entirely, to the good. ... In the end, Star Wars: The Force Awakens feels like the work of a very capable student, one who has studied his subject so diligently and thoroughly that he knows what to do and what to avoid, is smart enough to have engaged one of the experts in the field, in this case Kasdan, to work on the blueprint, and to have ensured that another of the key contributor to the series' success, John Williams, would return again after all the years.” —Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter