Neil Bahadur’s review published on Letterboxd:
"We want to make something for the fans." - Disney executives to George Lucas
Where to start with this? I don't usually find myself wanting to waste the time and energy writing negative reviews, but I found this film so seriously irritating and quite honestly - filled to the brim with a lot of serious issues in mainstream contemporary cinema. To be frank, I find most of this film to be offensively bad - 100% an exercise in marketing and advertisement. Granted, I do play it pretty safe with my viewings in a theatre - I very rarely find myself willing to go see a movie by a director that I'm not already fond of, unless the people I trust can really vouch for it. A shame right! But hopefully that can change in the future. Anyways - this was my parents choice for our annual Christmas movie, resulting in my viewing of this utterly putrid & infuriating film.
Because this movie is directed by J.J. Abrams, what is truly mysterious is that this movie isn't all bad! For what seems the first half hour or so, this movie is actually quite watchable and is quite deft in introducing us to new characters as well as surprisingly competent action scenes, reminding one of Spielberg in its movements from one set-piece to the next, narratively and formally acquiescing to a "get-up and run" approach. The film is by far and away is at its best here - yet even as charismatic as these actors are Disney's cloying at a progressive image is evident - "lets make these characters a white woman, a black man and a Hispanic man" (though Issac seems more in whiteface the entire time than Hispanic) In these early moments this is not an issue - though I am a bit reluctant to join in on some peoples parade that this is evidently the first time in human history that a white woman and a black man have become friends. A minor note - Issac is the best actor here, and it's a shame that he's the major character we get to see the least. Anyways - there are foreshadowings of this films future collapse - periodically we are given the images of an old, fallen AT-AT or whatever the hell the Empire people floated around in in the original trilogy. These additions to the film mean absolutely nothing - they are only there to "wink" at the audience, wink at fans & try to gain their trust. Here it's unnecessary but it isn't as cheap as it's going to get shortly.
As soon as Han Solo enters this film, the movie tanks and begins the gradual decline of whatever integrity it once had. It becomes fan-service extraordinaire - suddenly every major moment is a big reveal of an old character - the idiotic whip-pan to the door Han Solo walks out of, for example. What is truly disgusting is that Abrams competence goes out of the window as well - the main formal conceit of this movie becomes character reveals, an overload of whip-pans and push-ins, every time Luke Skywalker is named Abrams resorts to another idiotic push-in, surely to confirm to us the greatness of Luke Skywalker, something we so believed in as children when Lucasfilm was selling us toys and not Disney. Most frustratingly, Rey and Finn seem to go out of the picture, resorting to A New Hope's structure but making Han the primary character we are following - so even this idea of progressivism was a facade! Feminism and multiculturalism are reconstituted as action figures - the only thing really interesting about this film is watching how a corporation codifies and consumerizes something once it begins to be deemed progressive by a majority! Now that we have the new characters, we have new action figures for Disney to profit off of in the future - so we can resort back to the old characters to keep the old fans happy, keep them coming and keep them paying. The fact that so much of this movie's design is within reveals is very distressing - not only does J.J. Abrams not have an imagination, but he is quite literately part of this machine. From Solo's introduction onward the film becomes entirely useless, if perhaps occasionally interesting for Abrams's odd decisions at times, such as filming a lightsaber duel with over-the-shoulders (?) - or how so much of this films shit action scenes are entirely in medium shots or over-the-shoulders (?)
That being said - I think I can understand part of many peoples reaction to this. I was well into despising this movie by the time Rey and Kylo Ren fight in the forest. But as Rey called the lightsaber to her & away from Ren, the familiar sounds of the Luke Skywalker theme began. For a moment, I was hooked. The machine and the profiteers had succeeded in tricking me as well. So even if this film quite frankly has no integrity whatsoever - it is succeeding, almost perfectly in "giving the fans what they want," even as Abrams choices as a director are stupid as hell. I hope that didn't read as though I had any admiration for that - because I don't
Last thing - the final shot of this movie is so unbelievably stupid. I can see Abrams, sitting in his stupid chair "Well we have to end the movie on a helicopter shot! Even if it looks like shit and has no formal context within the movie! Helicopter shot!"