Praise galore for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in first reviews

Members of a Star Wars fan club pose for pictures before the film premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia on Wednesday.
Members of a Star Wars fan club pose for pictures before the film premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Subang Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia on Wednesday.PHOTO: EPA

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The critics are nearly unanimous: The Force is strong with this one.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a more than worthy addition to the iconic movie franchise, most said. It won rave reviews on Wednesday with critics saying it has breathed new life into the almost 40 year-old franchise that has spawned three original movies and three prequels.

 As the much anticipated Disney movie, directed by JJ Abrams, opened to the public in across Asia and Europe, Peter Bradshaw of British newspaper The Guardian called it “a spectacular homecoming". 

For entertainment industry publication The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy wrote that it is “the best Star Wars anything - film, TV show, video game, spinoff, what-have-you – in at least 32 years". The movie, McCarthy said “pumps new energy and life into a hallowed franchise in a way that both resurrects old pleasures and points in promising new directions.”

The Force Awakens, the first of a new trilogy of  Star  Wars films from Disney after its 2012 purchase of the franchise from George Lucas for $4 billion  (S$5.63 billion), takes place 30 years after 1983’s Return of the Jedi and re-unites original cast members Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill as well as introducing new characters. 

 

The film already has a rating of 9.1 on movie website IMDB.

The big news about "Star Wars: The Force Awakens' is - spoiler alert - that it's good!" wrote Manohla Dargis of the New York Times. "(Director J.J. Abrams) hasn't made a film only for true believers; he has made a film for everyone (well, almost)."

Reviews of the movie were embargoed until Wednesday and analysts are expected to come out with early projections of its money-making potential after the first weekend.

The movie, which opens in the United States on Thursday,  could gross US$2.8 billion worldwide, JBL Advisors analyst Jeffrey Logsdon wrote in a research note to clients.

That would put it in the same league as all-time top grosser Avatar, distributed by Fox in 2009.

“That giant wheezing sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief, heaved by now-legion generations of  Star Wars fans, from toddlers to their grandparents, who can rest assured that the Force is still with the franchise they grew up on or grew old with,” The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday said.  

Movie review aggregator website RottenTomatoes.com counted 132 reviews by Wednesday, only four of which were “rotten.” Those included an underwhelmed Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com who said “The Force Awakens” was “more like a remake or a mashup of the first two Star Wars pictures than a sequel” and that it barely advances the story of the initial trilogy.  

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times was also lukewarm, saying that the new movie was “only at its best in fits and starts.”

"The script leans rather heavily on exposition to fill in the 30-year gap between the events of this film and those of Return of the Jedi; one longs to get up to speed, but in subtler, less long-winded terms," wrote Justin Chang, chief film critic at Variety.

But the majority of reviews were unusually effusive.

“What a beautiful, thrilling, joyous, surprising and heart-thumping adventure this is,” wrote Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun Times. “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.” 

Still, the fans will have the last say.

"We've waited ... and waited ... and here it is! The 'Force Awakens' is everything we've come to love about Star Wars," one fan wrote on IMDB.