By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Dec 15, 2015 at 4:36 PM

Have you felt it? There’s been an awakening – or should I say "Awakens" has finally awakened?

Last night, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" – the cinematic monolith primed to make more money this upcoming weekend than the GDP of Sri Lanka – held its world premiere in Los Angeles. For the first time, people actually saw this thing – and were then pretty much sworn to secrecy. Critics in major markets also got to finally glimpse the new "Star Wars" this afternoon – and were then also sworn to secrecy, lest they be punished with a visit to the sarlacc.

The embargo on "The Force Awakens" reviews lifts tonight (or whenever some overly ambitious industry publication decides to cheat the system and break the embargo), which means we are in the final stretch of anticipation for the movie. These are the final hours of feeling like anything is possible, so let’s take this moment to soak in that excitement … and now talk about why this thing might be great or be terrible. Here are five reasons to be excited – and five reasons to be concerned. 

1. Good: Going back to basics

Here’s a #lukewarmtake: Everything about the prequels was wrong. From the CGI-ed-to-death visuals to the horrible dialogue to the story that both literally demystified the series and figuratively did by being a complete bore, Lucas’ prequels felt like a "Star Wars" trilogy from a rancid alternate universe. It’s been a decade since those films had their run, but the taste of disappointment was still in our mouths when Disney bought LucasFilm and announced more "Star Wars" movies – and probably led to much of the early cynicism about the situation.

Thankfully, everything about "The Force Awakens" seems to be working toward avoiding the prequels’ pitfalls. Most notably, J.J. Abrams and company have heavily emphasized throughout the production that they’re using lots of practical effects and sets for Episode VII. Now, obviously the movie won’t be lacking for computer effects, but after a trilogy where the mere act of conversing and walking down a hall had to be green-screened, it’s exciting to see Abrams trying to bring some of that tactile magic we fell in love with the first time in "Star Wars." The robots actually function; the sandy deserts are actual sandy deserts. As "Mad Max: Fury Road" taught everyone this summer, that touch of reality can do wonders in making cinematic magic.

Even more importantly, though, "The Force Awakens" brought back Lawrence Kasdan, only the co-screenwriter on both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" (not to mention "Raiders of the Lost Ark" … and "Dreamcatcher," but nevermind, la la la la, thinking happy thoughts!). According to that resume, he certainly knows the B-movie serial origins of these stories and hopefully how to recapture the wonder and adventure of those first films – plus keep Abrams in line, which speaking of …

 2. Good: J.J. Abrams

This may be Abrams’ first step into the "Star Wars" universe, but this isn’t actually that unfamiliar of territory for the director. After all, when it came time to reboot "Star Trek" – another beloved franchise with an expansive history, cast and fan base to please after years of disappointment and stasis – Abrams kicked that franchise up to speed and made it fun again, to the point that people called it more "Star Wars" than "Trek."

So why not give him a shot at the real thing then?

He’s good at managing big casts of characters – and "The Force Awakens" certainly has that – and wringing good personality out of everyone involved, and he’s fairly in tune with franchise fans and the nostalgia factor of those properties. That latter part has sometimes led him astray (we’ll get to that), but even at his worst, Abrams is a technically proficient director with a good feel for action and adventure, and a strong visual sense of emotion, wonder and iconography (there are already 10 shots in the footage revealed that are instantly captivating). Yes, he was the predictable choice, but he also seems like the right choice.

3. Good: The cast

Obviously seeing the old cast – Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill – back in action is wonderful and an instantly joyful nostalgia blast. But how about that new cast? John Boyega is a magnetic young actor; he should’ve broken out after the nifty sci-fi cult actioner "Attack the Block" in 2011, but at least he’s finally getting that much-deserved spotlight now. Oscar Isaac is one of our best young actors working now, captivating in everything he’s done – from singing in "Inside Llewyn Davis" to dancing in "Ex Machina."

Meanwhile, Adam Driver from "Girls" is an utterly unique screen performer, Lupita Nyong’o already has an Oscar for her amazing, heartbreaking performance in "12 Years a Slave" – which, by the way, Hollywood, why has she disappeared since then? – and that’s not even mentioning Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie of "Game of Thrones," Max von Sydow and several members of the insane martial arts crew from "The Raid." Any movie with a insanely deep cast like that would have my rapt attention – no matter its title.

4. Good: Suspense of the unknown

Much of this is thanks to Abrams’ polarizing "Mystery Box" philosophy, the idea of keeping the audience in the dark and building anticipation and tension that way. It’s working so far; despite the utter blitzkrieg of advertisements, interviews and appearances for "The Force Awakens," we really don’t know that much about the story or its big beats, plot or action. It can be wearying, but when it feels like most movies insist on giving away their best moments or jokes in the trailers, it’s nice to feel the excitement of walking into something cold and hopefully seeing and experiencing something new or surprising with a crowd of people witnessing the same thing for the first time.

It’s not only that, though. One of the most faulty aspects of the prequel trilogy – and that’s saying something – is that it was a big clumsy race to an already known destination. We knew pretty much exactly where those characters were going to end up. "The Force Awakens," on the other hand, is a completely new story 30 years after everything we already know. We have no idea where this movie – and the ones following – could take us. And how awesome is that.

5. Good: It can’t be worse than the prequels

We’ve been down this road before. We’ve felt the anticipation of a new "Star Wars," only to be stunned into silence – and not in the good way. We know – or at least, we hopefully know – what can happen if we go in expecting the world. Even with all of the hype, the bar, for many, has been readjusted, and maybe that’s for the best. We’ve seen the worst-case scenario, so even if "The Force Awakens" isn’t the dawn of a new cinematic era, it also can’t be worse than Jake Lloyd and Jar Jar Binks.

And while we’re on the topic of the ugly …

1. Bad: Nostalgia overload

Nostalgia can be a good tool, but as many of Hollywood’s recent reboots and remakes have shown, too much deference and throwing back can be a death knell. In some analyses of the available "Star Wars" footage, there’s a fear that "The Force Awakens" will just be a shiny remodeling of "A New Hope," replaying a lot of the same story and emotional beats with a shiny, updated, new lacquering.

It’s certainly happened before, often on a scene-by-scene basis. The new "Terminator" from this past summer literally remade scenes from the original film, only serving to remind audiences of the better film that’s already been made. If you rely too much on nostalgia, it can feel like a crutch and simply tells audiences that the new version’s creators have no good new ideas of their own. And unfortunately, one of the biggest culprits of that in recent note is …

2. Bad: J.J. Abrams

And no, not because of the lens flares.

J.J. Abrams’ last movie was "Star Trek Into Darkness," and if he’s still in that mindset going into "The Force Awakens," well, gulp. The movie’s technically entertaining enough, but that blockbuster sequel also revealed Abrams at his worst. The film’s callbacks to "The Wrath of Khan" – extending to pretty much remaking it in its final act, minus any of the creativity or bravery – just made the picture feel hollow, a movie scared to do anything new, so it just gave fans something they already liked. And that’s a poor comparison to invite.

The reveal of Khan, for instance, meant nothing to anybody in the movie; the name only has nostalgic value for the audience, but dramatically, it was a damp squib – even more so since Abrams tried and incredibly failed to hide the reveal from fans. Is that what’s happening with the missing Luke Skywalker – a bunch of intrigue and mystery surrounding a failed or unneeded surprise?

And there’s that "Mystery Box" again. While Abrams’ philosophy creates pre-release intrigue and tension, for every person who loves the eventual reveals in movies like "Cloverfield" and "Super 8," there’s many others who find that Abrams comes far from delivering on the build-up. It’s a tremendous showman’s technique, but if the actual product doesn’t match the anticipation, you’ve doomed yourself to disappoint. And if Abrams settles on redoing "A New Hope" or constantly pillaging cheap nostalgic emotion for easy cheers but dramatically weak payoffs, that disappointment could be galactic in size.

3. Bad: The cast

As mentioned above, it’s great to see the old cast back in action. It’s been so long since we’ve been excited to see them on screen again … which is depressing, because they’ve been around. Hamill’s made a nice career in his voice work – The Joker in the animated series is now borderline-iconic in its own right – but are we sure he’s a good screen actor? And what about Carrie Fisher? And even forgetting the fact that Harrison Ford’s last decade is mostly filled with forgettable roles in boring films noticeably taken for paychecks, do you remember the last time you were excited about Harrison Ford gearing up as an old beloved character? Yeah …

As for the new cast, while most of the additions are worth getting excited about … are we sure Daisy Ridley is good? She’s seemingly the crux of this new trilogy, the face front and center of these new adventures, but we’ve barely seen anything of her before. She is a true newcomer, and only the biggest movie potentially of all time rests significantly on her unproven shoulders. Let’s hope she’s not Jake Lloyd or Hayden Christensen.

4. Bad: Living up to the hype

Even going into this soured by the prequels, "The Force Awakens" is easily the most anticipated movie since … well, possibly "The Phantom Menace." Everyone will be seeing this movie, ads for it are everywhere and everyone is hoping it will be good. Can it hold up to the expectations of the biggest movie of all time? Most smart fans are going in reserved, as I mentioned above, but for those expecting the world, another entry to go next to the ones etched into cinematic history, will "good" or "fine" be good enough?

5. Bad: The stench of franchise

Throughout this whole marketing blitz and phase of anticipation, I’ve had the same refrain: This campaign has done a great job of making me lose my cynicism toward more "Star Wars." Disney’s marketed this movie just about perfectly, honing in on the nostalgia value but not forgetting to show something new at the same time. It’s really recaptured a sense of wonder and excitement for this franchise, the same one many of us felt when we first saw "Star Wars" and witnessed many of our first movie memories.

But what about that early cynicism? There’s a reason we felt that at first, and not only because we remembered the prequels. We saw the monolithic Disney corporation buying a franchise and being ready to profit. What if "The Force Awakens," instead of having the sense of its marketing campaign, reeks more of the usual Hollywood franchise-making. What if it smells of selling toys and making sequels? What if it’s just another soulless, Hollywood big-budget franchise, with all of its oddities and quirks carefully cut away and sanded down for mass consumption?

One of the things we love about the original "Star Wars" is that it feels like a real labor of love, a classic story told with oddball creativity. There’s a reason why "Star Wars," for most of its existence, has been a franchise for the outcasts and nerds: It’s a franchise of the underdog, handmade and weird and rich in bizarre details and inspirations. It wasn’t designed to be a sensation; it was fostered into becoming one by people who really attached to its story, its nerdy passions and its filmmaking ingenuity.

Disney and LucasFilm have done everything right so far in helping "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" tap into the special emotions those original movies conjure up. Now it’s time to see if they did so where it matters most: the actual movie. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.