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Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens – is it worth seeing?

23 December

With reviews flying in for the new Star Wars movie, it's clear that most critics love the film. Several influential outlets have awarded it four or five stars, including Empire, The Independent, The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, Time Out and USA Today.

But not everyone is quite so impressed. Several critics feel that the movie is too derivative and formulaic.

Ryan Gilbey of the New Statesman said: "[Abrams] hasn't made a terrible picture – just a safe one, where the farthest reaches of fantasy feel merely routine. Every crisis or moment of drama turns out to be a rehash of one that has gone before."

Michael Sragow of Film Comment struck a related chord, complaining that "Abrams is too busy trying to roll the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back into one two-hour-and-15-minute movie".

The result, writes Sragow, is that the "dramaturgy becomes stilted and the dialogue bland, not powerfully archetypal".

Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times, who reviewed the first Star Wars film for the same newspaper 38 years ago, is more critical of the cast than director. Of Daisy Ridley, he writes that "five minutes after seeing the film I couldn't remember her face or voice".

As for John Boyega, he continues: "He is likeable, open-featured and puppyishly hyperactive – but even he wilts, like a flower in excess sunlight, in the presence of Ford, who wipes competition with a single look or a one-liner."

The script left some critics cold, even self-confessed Star Wars fanatic Jordan Hoffman of The Guardian, who, despite penning an overall positive review, paused to say: "Its script is ludicrous, riddled with coincidences and a fealty to existing text that a less forgiving person might call lazy."

Over at Chicago Reader, JR Jones felt that cynicism had overpowered artistry. Jones said: "As with other instalments, this is less a movie than an exercise in massaging a juvenile-minded audience that wants the experience to be new and familiar at the same time."

Perhaps Abrams, too, sees his audience as somewhat juvenile, suggested some critics. Stephanie Zacharek of Time writes: "The movie's big twist, clearly intended to be a moment of Shakespearean grandeur, is handled clumsily. Instead of allowing a significant figure to have his grand moment, Abrams cuts to other characters expressing shock and dismay, as if he didn't trust the audience to know what to feel."

Nevertheless, these remarks go against the overall flow of critical consensus, which has seen the movie rapturously praised as "humungous", "euphoric", "pure, old-school pleasure" and "a spectacular homecoming".

The film has also been hugely successful. The Force Awakens recorded the United States and Canada's biggest domestic opening weekend in cinema history, taking in $238m (£160m).

Globally, the film is expected to pocket just over $517m (£346m) in ticket sales, putting it in second place behind the dinosaur juggernaut Jurassic World, which attracted $525m (£351m) this summer.

Significantly, Jurassic World's box office takings were achieved with the help of the Chinese market, where the new Star Wars film won't open in China until 2016.

Experts are praising the film's focus on narrative for its early success. "The studios finally seem to be remembering, after years of over-reliance on visual effects, that moviegoers like a story," said Jeanine Basinger, an author and film studies professor at Wesleyan University over the weekend.

The studio's harnessing of Facebook and Twitter is also being lauded. Brooks Barnes of the New York Times, says: "The Force Awakens arrives at a time when Hollywood has finally started to better understand how to use social media to turn consumer interest into a frenzy."

The ultimate Star Wars fan has also been announced, with Texas cinemagoer Jim Braden sitting through a mammoth 46 hours of the space opera saga, including nine showings of The Force Awakens.

The competition was organised by the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain and in order to succeed Braden had to watch The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002) and Revenge of the Sith (2005), followed by Star Wars (1977), The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Return of the Jedi (1983), and finally The Force Awakens on a loop.

"I wanted to demonstrate my passion," Braden told Variety. "I grew up with Star Wars. As a kid, the simple morality just appealed to me. Everybody likes a white-hat hero they can get behind."

According to The Guardian, the Texan achieved his remarkable feat by studying US Navy Seal breathing techniques, wearing shorts and a T-shirt to help stay awake in the air-conditioned auditorium, spacing his caffeine intake out in six-hour increments and snacking only on fruit and nuts to ensure he remained hungry.

"We put ourselves through hell mentally and physically," said Braden, but despite the torment, he still gave The Force Awakens the thumbs up.

He added: "I came out of it saying that I still enjoyed the movie. That's how you know it's good."

Star Wars 7: The Force Awakens is finally out – the first reviews

17 December

The cast of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens flew into London for the film's European premiere last night to the cheers of lightsaber-wielding fans.

Creator George Lucas said returning to London for the premiere was "like coming home" as thousands of people turned out in force for the red carpet event in Leicester Square.

"Ewoks and Jedis mingled with tourists, lightsabers clashed with selfie sticks and John Williams's rousing theme tune boomed out over the red carpet," reports The Guardian. Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square even lit up like a lightsaber to mark the occasion.

A procession of Stormtroopers, led by Darth Vader, marched out first, followed by director JJ Abrams and actors including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.

Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega and Adam Driver were also among the stars who had flown in an R2-D2 themed plane from Los Angeles, where the world premiere was held on Monday.

Several other familiar faces, including Simon Pegg and Warwick Davis, were also in Leicester Square after making cameo appearances in the Force Awakens.

So does the film live up to the hype?

The first reviews are in for the hugely anticipated movie, which opens in UK cinemas today. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief – critics are calling it a triumph.

The seventh film in the Star Wars franchise, directed by JJ Abrams, reunites original stars Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher with British newcomers John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie.

The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The vanquished Empire has been replaced by the fascistic First Order. Luke Skywalker has vanished - and the Rebel Alliance has been replaced by the Resistance.

The story follows a new generation of heroes, including scavenger Rey (Ridley) and a deserter from the stormtroopers, Finn (Boyega), who aspires to join the freedom fighters.

Critics could barely contain their excitement, and praised JJ Abrams for reinvigorating the franchise.

"Fear not, Star Wars fans: JJ Abrams has made the sequel of your dreams," says Robbie Collin in the Daily Telegraph.

There are moments of drama and excitement that are pure late-Seventies vintage, says Collin, but the new leads – a young woman and a young black man who are not obvious heirs to Skywalker's Aryan farm-boy – show the story can move on.

The new heroes are bold, funny and a pleasure to watch, says Collin. And the storytelling is "addictively bold and wildly exciting".

Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian agrees, saying that from the first few frames, JJ Abrams's "exciting, spectacular and seductively innocent" The Force Awakens shows itself "a movie in the spirit of the original trilogy".

Bradshaw praises Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan for creating a film that is both a narrative progression from the earlier three films and "a shrewdly affectionate" next-gen reboot.

"The Force is back. Big time," says Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. Star Wars VII "pumps new energy and life into the hallowed franchise".

But while the fundamentals of George Lucas's original creation remain, says McCarthy, Abrams has shifted the tone, bringing the material closer to the feel of a Steven Spielberg film like Indiana Jones in terms of action and exuberance.

Justin Chang in Variety calls The Force Awakens a "rousing, even restorative seventh chapter in the immortal space-opera saga". It reinvigorates the franchise with "a welcome surge of energy, warmth and excitement after the misbegotten cycle of prequels" released between 1999 and 2005, says Chang.

His only hesitation is the call-backs to the original movies. "Marvellous as it is to catch up with Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the gang," says Chang, "fan service takes priority here over a somewhat thin, derivative story."

Still, he admits, a "tilt toward nostalgia over novelty will hardly prove a commercial liability".

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