As the reviews flood in this morning for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they’re all pretty much … good! There are plenty of reasons for that: J.J. Abrams can really stage an action scene; the script offers plenty of familiar comforts but takes seriously its mission of contemporary inclusiveness; BB-8. But the main reason, I think, is an overwhelming sense of relief—relief that, unlike last time, a new Star Wars trilogy hasn’t been introduced with a movie that feels like a joke. Nowhere is that represented so clearly as in the fact that every single performance in The Force Awakens is good.
Every single one! Daisy Ridley and John Boyega? Great. Totally appealing and game. Oscar Isaac? A worthy wisecracking Han Solo for a new generation. Adam Driver? Very good, even in funny scenes where he’s just constipatedly trying to use the Force on people. Domhnall Gleeson works up a good head of steam as a bad guy. Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie are fun even though you don’t see their actual faces. All the original trilogy actors are at least good, even the ones who were sometimes not good the first time around. This is the kind of movie in which even tiny little parts are played by such estimable thespians as Max Von Sydow and … well, Greg Grunberg, but he’s fine, he doesn’t blow it.
That the fact no one in this Star Wars movie is bad at acting feels like a surprise, seven movies in, suggests how thrown-together the franchise has been in many ways until now. That it succeeded so wildly seems, in retrospect, thanks not only to George Lucas’ skills at mythmaking but to our own hunger for myths to call our own, even in the face of Lucas’ panoply of artistic weaknesses. This time around there’s no kid who just scowls through the whole thing, or his goofily-voiced CGI sidekick. There’s no 1977 Mark Hamill swallowing his lines, or 1983 Mark Hamill struggling to convey an agonizing battle with darkness. There’s no wooden Hayden Christensen or cackling, hammy Ian McDiarmid. When Lucas was directing his scrappy indie movies—and even when he was spending $100 million of 20th Century Fox’s money to do it—he could make those kinds of choices. But no longer.
Instead, The Force Awakens is a totally professional and capable Star Wars movie for which lots of people were paid tons of money to make sure the casting and performances range from good to great. Is this a betrayal of the junky, cobbled-together spirit of the originals? A little bit, maybe. The Force Awakens scuffs its high-lustre finish every once in a while, but it’s in no way a bucket of bolts. It’s a perfectly-tuned entertainment machine, a product of an era in which Hollywood has basically perfected the art of the 100-quadrant blockbuster. Everyone will like this movie: Teenagers in the Bronx, grandmas in Iowa, dads in Brussels, 1.357 billion people in China. Disney has bought Star Wars, and the grown-ups are running the show. Say what you want about the Empire, but they get things done.