Joe Bandy’s review published on Letterboxd:
“This will begin to set things right” are the first words spoken in The Force Awakens and, without getting ahead of myself, perhaps Abrams’ issues with this universe were apparent from the jump. Opening the film in such a meta way is one thing, but the implication of the line is that there were wrongs to be corrected. That there is a fixed, objective way Star Wars should be, it wasn’t there before, and Abrams was returning it to that place.
And indeed this film is a return in many ways I feel are deeply misguided. I was nervous to share it at the time but my heart sunk when I saw the first teaser for this movie. Star Wars movies up until that point always went someplace new, had worlds unlike anything we’d seen yet, and everything about this film is simply a recreation of the past, Abrams has a slavish devotion to original trilogy aesthetics (even initially asked Dan Mindel to try and find the lenses A New Hope was shot on) and it hurts to see a series once defined by its visual imagination turn inwards, hesitant, and worst of all apologize for previous entries not doing the same thing.
Make no mistake though — this is a well crafted movie. VERY well crafted. Dan Mindel’s cinematography pops, the production design is so detailed and lived in, the characters are engaging, Williams is a force and the wizards at ILM deliver some of their most impressive VFX. The marketing worked over time to convince everyone it was all pRaCtIcAl eFfEcTs but it’s packed to the gills with wonderful CGI, obvious and not. For example — did you know Driver shot the first conversation with Snoke without a helmet and they decided in post production to move scenes around so it’s entirely digital in that scene? And not just that but he was holding the helmet under his arm so they had to fix that digitally too? Amazing stuff. And to be fair, Abrams commitment to previous films is set aside during one notable sequence in a twilight, snowy woods where lightsabers crackle and clash and the earth falls apart beneath them. It’s the only time the movie feels grand and operatic like the best of Star Wars does.
Ultimately the issue with making a zero risk movie designed to just give people what they already know they like is it doesn’t hold up over time. There’s less and less to be mined and appreciated here over the years. Especially watching in the context of the series as a whole this feels kinda bland after all the boldness of the Lucas driven ones. Star Wars, to me, is so much more than desert planets, trench runs, and rebels beating space nazis, which unfortunately is all this seems content to be. But as far as that stuff goes you won’t find much better.