The biggest complaint from critics about J.J. Abrams’ 2011 sci-fi thriller Super 8 was that instead of being an homage to one of his heroes – Steven Spielberg, who produced the movie – it slipped into the territory of pastiche. Super 8 was so slavishly devoted to the house style of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment that it simply became an imitation of it. Thinking about that movie now, it feels like it was the perfect test to make sure the most successful franchise in film history would be safe in Abrams’ hands. George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars universe, and Spielberg worked together on the Indiana Jones series after all, and both men came out of the same “film school brat” scene of the 1970s. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek series also proved he was capable of working on the galactic scale required for Star Wars.
Abrams’ The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film without Lucas’ guiding hand as either director or producer, is a mixed bag when it comes to that question of homage vs. pastiche. The Force Awakens feels very much like a J.J. Abrams movie. His signature brand of sarcastic humor and penchant for diversionary sequences of action for action’s sake are both present. At the same time, it seems like Abrams was very aware that he was making A STAR WARS MOVIE. There are points when the movie is close to being crushed under the weight of wanting to live up to its predecessors. As a consequence, the story is overstuffed with plot. A large number of story elements borrow directly from Episodes IV and VI of the series. But ultimately Abrams made an exciting installment that included touches harkening back to the earlier films, putting a smile on this Star Wars fan’s face throughout the movie.