Kevin McCarthy's 100% spoiler-free review of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

If you know FOX 5's Kevin McCarthy -- you know he is a huge fan of the 'Star Wars' franchise.

He had his tickets well in advance of the premiere and woke up at 3 a.m. to get his thoughts out there after the review embargo was lifted.

This week, he’s brought us interviews with the director and stars – now we finally get to hear his first thoughts following his early screening of the film.

So here you have it, Kevin McCarthy's 100% spoiler-free review of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.'


Ok. I need to use this forum to talk about what I experienced yesterday with "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." (100% spoiler free)

Before I get to my rant, let me say that this film is the BEST flick in the franchise since "The Empire Strikes Back." I cried twice and had an insane amount of chills throughout. 

As a kid growing up with a love of all things cinema, I was always jealous of people who were alive to see some of the iconic cinematic moments in a movie theatre for the first time. I would love to go back in time and see "Jaws" or "Psycho" or "The Godfather" or "The Empire Strikes Back" in a MOVIE THEATRE with a crowd on opening weekend. Could you imagine being in an theatre when Luke finds out Vader is his father?!? I know some of you were there and I am beyond jealous. Experiencing those iconic scenes with a crowd on opening weekend is something I will never know the feeling of. 

Throughout my years, there have been films that have given me that experience like "The Matrix" or "The Sixth Sense" or "Jurassic Park." Movies that had iconic moments that are talked about consistently with some of the greatest WOW moments of all time. 

Yesterday, I sat in a theatre watching "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," and experienced sequences that I think will become some of the most iconic cinematic scenes of all time. An incredible feeling washed over me during these moments and it was just such a special experience that is hard to put in to words. Maybe that's what Serkis' character means when he says "HAVE YOU FELT IT?" It's an experience that I want to have over and over again with different crowds. I'm going again Friday night in glorious 70mm! 

What J.J. Abrams has done here is made a film that simultaneously stands alone YET perfectly balances out enough nostalgia to make everyone happy. The script is extremely fast-paced which makes the film feel like it's less than thirty minutes long. (The film's running time is 2 hours and 16 minutes.)

Through the combination of John Williams' classic STAR WARS themes and the new ones, Williams has brought new LIFE to new characters that fit beautifully in to the mold of the original trilogy. John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and Oscar Isaac deliver PERFECT performances that really stand on their own. These are characters that are extremely well-written, brilliantly engaging and contain so much depth. John Boyega has one of the best American accents I've ever heard and Daisy Ridley will blow your mind with her performance. I still have chills over so many of her scenes. She would have moments of no dialogue and I understood exactly what she was going through just by the look on her face. 

As a FILM advocate, I can't tell you how incredible it is that Abrams shot the movie on 35mm and 65mm FILM. This preserved the classic look of the original trilogy. As Abrams said, there's "magic" in film. There's nothing that can replace the look and feel of what film gives a story. I know it's weird to say but it just looks so much more "cinematic" and less like a television show. 

The new cast combined with the original cast of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hammil is beyond incredible to see on the big screen. There's this feeling that everyone involved knows they are making something special. It's a film that appears to have been handled with care and a genuine excitement to advance the story. Sure, movies are made with the hope of making money but this felt genuine in the sense that these characters MEANT something. This story will MEAN something to fans of the franchise. Admittedly, I lost a lot of faith in the franchise with the prequels. There are great scenes within those films but they took away a certain magic that the original trilogy has. It wasn't until recently, when I re-watched the original trilogy on VHS (The unedited versions) that my LOVE for the franchise was brought back and I felt like a kid again. 

Another beautiful aspect is that the film doesn't FEEL like a J.J. Abrams movie. He set aside parts of his style and really told a great story. His flexing more of a his story-telling muscle here than his usual style. This was a brilliant move. Of course, there are classic Abrams style shots and some beautiful lens flares but the film never shouted "Hey! This is J.J. Abrams directing!" Everything felt like it served the story. Even classic filmmakers like Spielberg will tell you that STORY is the number one key to anything. I will say, I would have loved a few more lens flares. There's nothing more beautiful in cinema than a 35mm anamorphic lens flare. Ok, maybe the dolly zoom shot used in Hitchcock's VERTIGO. There's an epic flare in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," where you see a red beam of light go by Kylo Ren as he stands on the ship deck. (That's in the trailer so no spoilers.)

Now, on the filmmaking side, I have to geek out about PRACTICAL EFFECTS and SETS. Abrams had the actors actually holding practical light sabers. They lit up and when they clashed, the lights brightened. Obviously, they added CGI to make them look more like the lightsabers we all know and love. It's just incredible that the actors could hold these lightsabers and the light actually illuminated their bodies. They also built the Millennium Falcon and X-Wing's to have on-set as practical pieces. Everything just feels real and like it's actually happening. Yes, there is CGI when necessary but it's never overdone. The brilliance of a filmmaker is when they use CGI only when it's necessary. A lot of directors rely to heavily on CGI to cover an action scene and it's beyond lazy. 

Another great aspect is that YOU CAN SEE ALL THE ACTION. Nothing seems too quickly cut together. All of the flying and the fighting feels completely visceral. 

Abrams balances out a film that is equally funny, dramatic, haunting, beautiful and mesmerizing. There's so much beauty in watching the Millennium Falcon flying. Dan Mindel, the cinematographer, captured this beautifully. 

Now, every film comes with flaws. Even "The Empire Strikes Back" has flaws. There were a few script issues and a couple of characters that weren't my favorite. I won't name names now for spoiler reasons. These are so minor but they did stick out a bit at times. What's interesting is that one of the flaws I believe the film has also works as a major positive. Considering the movie is for fans and non-fans, there is dialogue that is very over explanatory at times. For a fan, it feels unnecessary but for a non-fan, it's necessary for the enjoyment of the film. It's one of those bittersweet qualities of the film. 

For people asking about 2D, 3D or IMAX. The movie was SHOT in 2D and converted to 3D. The movie was shot on 35mm film with some parts using a 65mm camera. That means it will switch back and forth between having black bars on the top/bottom of the screen and filling the full IMAX screen. 

Abrams has not only directed one of the best films of the year but he's also reminded people why it's so important to get out and go to a movie theatre. He makes films that make you excited to go to the movies again and see films with a crowd. 

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is my FIFTH and FINAL 5 out of 5 rating of 2015. The first four were "Mad Max: Fury Road," "Ex Machina," "Steve Jobs" and "Inside Out."

Thanks for following along with my nerdy adventures. And yes, I had extreme amounts of NERD TEARS during the flick! 

I'll leave you with my ranking of the STAR WARS franchise:

  1. Episode V: "The Empire Strikes Back"
  2. Episode IV: "A New Hope"
  3. Episode VII: "The Force Awakens"
  4. Episode VI: "The Return of the Jedi"
  5. Episode III: "The Revenge of the Sith"
  6. Episode I: "The Phantom Menace"
  7. Episode II: "Attack of the Clones"


Kevin McCarthy (@KevinMcCarthyTV)

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