'Star Wars: The Force Awakens': What the Critics Are Saying (Spoiler-Free!)

The J.J. Abrams film stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver with Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

The reviews are rolling in for Star Wars: Episode VII -– The Force Awakens, starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o and Domnhall Gleeson and returning castmembers Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

With a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, some critics were mixed when reviewing the highly anticipated J.J. Abrams film. Right in the middle of the pack is The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy, who says it "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 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."

"One of the primary satisfactions of this sharply paced and lively blockbuster is the obvious care that has gone into every aspect of the production, from the well-balanced screenplay and dominance of real sets and models over computer graphics to the casting, a strict limitation on self-referential, in-jokey humor and the thoroughly refreshed feel of John Williams' exuberant score. ... [It] 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," McCarthy continues, highlighting the battle and fight sequences that "every Star Wars fan of good standing will find entirely compelling" and considers the ending a "coda" that "is wonderful and sets things up perfectly for the next installment."

He also applauds the introduction of new cast members and their characters — "Never once appearing to ask for sympathy or even to be liked, Ridley looks like she's ever-ready to take on a contingent of Hunger Games opponents, while Boyega, perhaps overplaying at first, settles in as his character transforms from robotic foot soldier to expressive and emotive man" — and sees great potential in Driver's Kylo Ren and Nyong'o's Maz Kanata.

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis gives Episode VII a strong review. "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." Isaac, Ridley and Boyega bring "a genuine diversity too infrequently represented in our movies" and a "slippery playfulness" to the film, while Driver "brings intensity and flowing physical grace" to the villain role. And "as for the story, well, it’s as simple as ever, with the usual complications and a bestiary of cute, cuddly and loathsome creatures (humanoid and not) with odd names and habits that keep this circus jumping."

USA Today's Brian Truitt wholeheartedly applauds the entry that "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." And "while Abrams uses many of the legacy players sparingly, and thankfully never lets them overshadow the newcomers, he gives Ford time to shine and really do something neat with a man who has reverted to his smuggler days. The aging Solo has much more gravitas but still has a way with one-liners, courtesy of Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan’s script. Gone is the clunky dialogue of the prequels — instead, it’s replaced by some seriously clever writing that often leads to nice little moments, many with Han and Finn."

Also sharing a strong review, RogerEbert.com's Matt Zoller Seitz explains that, despite familiar franchise elements that may feel played out, "it's still an exhilarating ride, filled with archetypal characters with plausible psychologies, melodramatic confrontations fueled by soaring emotions, and performances that can be described as good, period, rather than 'good, for Star Wars.' And it’s a treat to see beloved older characters placed beside new ones in situations that respect Lucas' myth-making even as they correct a lot of his flaws as a storyteller, including the default whiteness of his casts."

Slightly less enthused is Boston Globe's Ty Burr, who loves that Abrams "recaptures the one element Lucas left out of the second trilogy: the pop lightness that made the first Star Wars seem simultaneously eternal and effervescent. ... [he] and his writers work hard at keeping The Force Awakens agile, even while building on the heavyweight mythos undergirding Lucas’s universe." But Boyega’s Finn "is the new movie’s one weak link" as "the performance is fine but it’s just fine, with little of the iconic bite a Wagnerian cartoon like this needs. (Of course, you could say the same thing about Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars.)" And "in some of the weaker laugh lines and a few clumsy scene transitions, the new movie honors the B-movie roots of the first Star Wars all too well. But even those rough edges may add to the sense that we’re in good hands once more."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls it "not great. But far better than "not bad." Solidly, confidently good." Though it's "easily the third-best in the franchise to date" and "Ridley's Rey is a first-rate screen heroine in the making," he wishes "the script had come up with something more inventive" than its Dark Side plot, and "as for Nyong'o, whose motion-captured performance as a digitally animated saloonkeeper, she's more than good enough to make you wish they'd gone another direction."

Time's Stephanie Zacharek says it "strives to please instead of surprise." Abrams first "makes us believe anything could happen — it’s the best kind of movie feeling. But somewhere along the way, Abrams begins delivering everything we expect, as opposed to those nebulous wonders we didn’t know we wanted. ... [It] adds up to something less than the sum of its parts. The early scenes have a relaxed, assured pace. But as the story moves forward, Abrams becomes more mired in the task of keeping the plot mechanics in gear." Particularly, a climactic battle scene is "mildly exciting and nothing more" and "punctuated with dumb dialogue," and a plot twist "is handled clumsily."

Noticeably displeased is Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan, who says the film "has an erratic, haphazard quality to it." Though "a definite improvement on the last three abortive Star Wars prequels" with some potent new characters and outstanding moments," it "is also burdened by casting miscalculations and scenes that are flat and ineffective," plus an "overcomplicated plot" and characters with "forced" bonds. Still, he salutes "an altogether splendid Harrison Ford" and an "inspired" pair of motion-capture performances by Nyong'o and Serkis."