ByFrancis Barel, writer at

As the world slowly discovers professional reviews from those invited at official premieres, I thought I would share my thoughts as a fan and non-professional reviewer. Given that my country got to see the movie first in the world, and that most Frenchmen will not deign give the fan community a review in English, I thought I would give you my fan opinion on the movie. I’m pretty sure that 90% of the journalists who saw the movie on Monday 14th are also fans, but there’re journalists first (even if for Star Wars their fan mind could overcome their professional integrity – so they probably all moved to the Dark Side of the journalist ethics and spoke as fan first, professional reviewers second). Anyway, I will still share my thoughts as a 100% fan!

I promise to keep this spoiler-free, as a sign of respect to my fellow American Star Wars fans who still have to wait another 24 hours to discover this new Episode.

Before I get into it, I just have to thank again the powers-that-be that made the movie available earlier in France than anywhere in the world. The only reason we Frenchmen were so lucky is because movies come out on Wednesdays in France, as opposed to Fridays for the U.S. and most of the rest of the world. And in this era of “day-and-date” global showings, the “day” is not necessarily the same “day”, but the official “movies-come-out-on-this-day” day. It doesn’t mean that for some movies – Episode I for instance – they don’t change the day movies come out: for Episode I, the movie came out on a Friday, like its brethren in the U.S.

I took a lot of flak for my previous post on Star Wars, but once again if I wasn’t clear – and I’m French so perhaps things got lost over the Atlantic! – I only wrote about the potential level of disappointment fans would feel if they were too excited about the new movie.

That is why I voluntarily refused to watch more than once all the trailers; I avoided reading any cast or crew interviews; I steered away from all the magazine coverages, the exclusives, the fan conspiracies, the alleged spoilers, etc. Mind you, it wasn’t easy! There was SO MUCH coverage. Even Time Magazine ran a cover on it! I almost didn’t want to watch the 2nd trailer, so adamant was I at fully discovering the movie in theater completely sight-free. Of course, my will was not strong enough. But considering that only watched it once, I consider myself almost as neutral as possible in this review; the only thing I bring to the table was my undying love for the original trilogy (my mother was pregnant with me when she saw A New Hope, so it tells you that I was literally born with Star Wars in my blood!).

Anyway, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the elephant in the room and the sole reason why you wanted to read this article: Is this movie any good? Is it disappointing? Is it a masterpiece? Is it just better than the Prequels? Does it come close to Episode IV? Dare you ask, to “Empire”?

Well, it’s all of the above!

Let me try to structure the approach a little bit. Obviously, it’s hard to talk about the movie without mentioning the plot or spoilers. But at least, let me mention the “package” itself.

What struck me as just amazing were the “earthly” sounds of Ben Burtt. Not only could I recognize the roots of the Star Wars galaxy in the sounds, but I could really feel that those sounds came from the “reality” presented to me. This is almost the first thing you hear, after John Williams’ amazing score. Obviously, the new themes are so rich that you need to listen to them without the movie, or rewatch the movie again to listen to them in context. But again, really great. I wouldn’t use the word “magnificent” as a lot of cues are homages to the original themes, and obviously they’re used at the perfect time.

Then, there are the special effects. Even if some background are obviously CGI, given the scale of them and the difference in size compared to the protagonists. But they almost seem real. Most of all, they are “lived-in”, just like the tech. You can feel the grime, the dirt, and the age of all of it.

Of course, there is the acting. Harrison Ford slips on his Han Solo character like an old glove, much better than the Indiana Jones role in Indy IV. His mannerisms, his tics, his body language, they’re all there! Carrie Fisher is also great, but I feel that the plastic surgery on her face makes her emote much less. It seems she’s struggling to smile or move her lips, at times. However, her eyes say it all, so that’s great. As for the new characters, they’re truly awesome! Daisy Ridley reminds me of the spunk of Keira Knightley in the first Pirates movie: she’s heroic, determined, independent, yet full of hopes and dreams and longing for something that I can’t reveal. John Boyega is really amazing, full of conflict, back-and-forth, humor and fun. Oscar Isaac almost steals the show, with his great stance and heroism.

Finally, the story. While I promised I would keep this spoiler-free, I do have to mention one thing: the J.J. Abrams “mystery box” works wonders. Since I didn’t read the coverages, I can’t say whether fans got it right or no; and since I don’t want to spoil anything, I can’t say what were my biggest surprises in the plot. Let me just tell you that the homages to the first trilogy are all there, but that it really brings the story to the 21 century, with its eye clearly on creating an ongoing franchise and story. So, yes, we are left with more questions than answers. I would say that the homages or honoring of Episode IV are almost too much, as the winks and retreads are too close for comfort for me. Yes, we are longing for a return to the original trilogy, but that much? Come on! I will also say that there is a big plot hole that is very similar to the one in Episode IV: is it on purpose? If it is, it’s too much. One other major plot hole is about a character that doesn’t “sense” a second character who’s a few feet away, yet later he senses this second character as he’s miles and miles away. This doesn’t make sense at all.

I have to comment on the dialogues: they're really great, and one line that you almost forgot you had not heard at all in the whole movie, that comes right at the end, is just amazing as well. It reminded me of Casino Royale, when Daniel Craig speaks his own famous line close to the end: you realize it wasn't missing, yet it makes the movie full and complete.

I also have to add one thing: there are two moments in the film that made me cry. One, that you only see coming late, but that is gut-wrenching. The other one, that you see coming much earlier, that you expect, but is so heroic and well-timed, that you can't help but cheer for it!

But obviously, this is nitpicking. I’m still so “high” on the movie, I have yet to realize that I’ve seen a new Star Wars movie! A NEW STAR WARS MOVIE!! It’s a great great movie, worth many repeat viewings. Once I’ve had more perspective, I’ll probably be able to increase my 8/10 to a 9/10 or 9.5/10. I just feel that the “homages” bordered on non-originality, that’s why I can’t give it more than 8 for now.

I’m sure you’ll have your own view on this, so please don’t hesitate to share!


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