If you were bracing yourself for Phantom Menace levels of disappointment from the new Star Wars film, then you can officially relax.
Director J.J. Abrams has perfectly captured the spirit of the original trilogy, much as he did with his reboot of the Star Trek franchise. As a result, The Force Awakens is a genuinely thrilling experience, packed with great characters (both old and new), terrific action set-pieces, state-of-the-art special effects and a surprising amount of humour.
As the familiar opening crawl explains, the film takes place 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and a new evil Empire known as the First Order has arisen, commanded by Vader-like Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Grand Moff Tarkin-like General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).
With both the Resistance and the First Order desperate to find Skywalker, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) dispatches her finest fighter pilot (Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron) to Tatooine-like Jakku in order to find a secret map to his location, but he’s captured before he can complete his mission and hides the map inside his faithful ball droid, BB-8, who escapes into the desert.
After BB-8 is rescued by desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), the pair hook up with rogue Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), who’s trying to escape the First Order. And when Rey and Finn discover that the First Order have orders to capture BB-8, they realise that they have to get the droid to the Resistance before it’s too late. Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of a familiar grizzled smuggler and his furry friend.
First things first, The Force Awakens delivers everything you could conceivably want from a Star Wars film: the action set-pieces are both frequent and genuinely thrilling, the performances are pitch-perfect, the new characters are wonderful, the production design is exceptional (and makes clever use of familiar vehicles and creatures) and John Williams’ classic score is the icing on an already delicious cake.
In particular, in an age where modern blockbusters are routinely criticised for having exclusively white male leads, The Force Awakens deserves extra credit for making Ridley and Boyega its lead characters. They, in turn, make a terrific duo, sparking palpable chemistry and bringing real emotion to their characters. Similarly, Driver is superb as Kylo Ren, while Harrison Ford brings a surprising amount of energy to Han Solo and looks like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years. (Pleasingly, he makes much more than just a token appearance).
On top of everything else, this is by far the funniest Star Wars film, with a multitude of laugh-out-loud moments, both verbal and visual – BB-8, in particular, is a real scene-stealer and gets some priceless reaction shots. In addition, the film is packed with delightful touches, including numerous fan-pleasing callbacks to the previous films and some inspired directorial touches, especially when it comes to the first appearances of various objects and characters.
Apart from a couple of hang-on-a-minute plot holes, the only real problem is that the script is essentially a beat-for-beat rehash of the original Star Wars film, and whilst this is admittedly great on the one hand, it also means that the film is never quite its own thing and, worse, that you can accurately predict certain plot developments. It’s also, arguably, slightly hampered by having to leave the audience wanting to see the next episode, something that wasn’t the case with the original Star Wars.
In short, this is absolutely the Star Wars film you’re looking for, an enormously entertaining, genuinely thrilling space adventure that will please both die-hard fans and young newcomers alike. Highly recommended.