Wisely choosing to open not with Disney’s fairy tale castle in place of the Fox fanfare but simply the Lucasfilm logo followed by the ‘A long time ago…’ introduction, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” takes us back to that galaxy far, far away far more successfully than at any time since 1983. It’s hard to put into words the giddy, intoxicating thrill of the score crashing into life as “Star Wars” appears on screen and the opening scroll – a brand new, never-read-before scroll – glides towards the horizon.
There’s little doubt that JJ Abrams has succeeded beyond our wildest hopes where George Lucas repeatedly failed through the prequels. This feels like “Star Wars”, instantly and unmistakably. The prequels may have managed to look like “Star Wars” but as a wise old man once said, ‘Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them’. There’s no need to stretch out with your feelings this time, though. Like Han and Chewie, we’re all home.
Yes, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has everything you ever loved about the original trilogy, and that’s kind of its biggest flaw. JJ Abrams’ unrivalled talent for imitation is in full flow here and there is literally no aspect of the original trilogy which is left unreferenced. The main plot of Episode VII liberally duplicates huge chunks of “Star Wars” and “Return Of The Jedi” and events take a decidedly “Empire Strikes Back” turn towards the end but it’s in an endless parade of little moments of homage, recreation and fan service that “The Force Awakens” puts its faith. And in a way, it’s a canny move; gently but firmly acknowledging the fact that the prequels – whatever you may think of them – did much to alienate and embitter the loyal fan base of the saga. By taking this borderline fan fiction-esque devotion to the past approach, “The Force Awakens” manages to heal old wounds and remind us – sometimes a little too obviously – why we fell in love with this series in the first place. In doing so, it clears the decks and jettisons the series’ recent baggage, opening the door to the new ideas, plots and intrigues to come. The principle McGuffin of “The Force Awakens” isn’t what is interesting: it’s just something for the characters to do to pass the time while tantalising hints and mysteries are laid around their pasts, presents and futures.
Our new trinity of heroes are legitimately great, with Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Oscar Isaac’s Fin shouldering much of the earnest drama, leaving ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to grin charmingly and wisecrack his way in and out of the story as required. Adorable new droid BB-8 fulfils all of his marketing promise, skewering the hearts and wallets of the audience in a way Jar Jar Binks could scarcely dream of.
The First Order are suitably grandiose (and predominantly English, naturally) with Adam Driver’s surprisingly complex Kylo Ren vying for screen time with Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, who chews the scenery with such gusto it’s a wonder the First Order needed a weapon to devour worlds at all. Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma fulfils the Boba Fett role of looking cool but doing very little, although the role is apparently set to expand in future episodes.
Of the returning veterans, Harrison Ford is far more successful at finding Han Solo again than he was with Indiana Jones, and seems much younger and spryer than he was in “Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull”. He and Chewie make for marvellously world weary mentors for the new generation as well as bringing back the natural good natured humour while Carrie Fisher delivers an unexpectedly poignant turn as Princess General Leia. C-3PO on the other hand feels irritatingly out of place and anachronistic and as for R2-D2 and Luke Sykwalker…well, you’ll see.
Action packed, crammed with exotic and memorable supporting characters and liberally seasoned with old favourites allowing cracking new ideas and plots to jostle for attention alongside the trusty old “Star Wars” tropes, “The Force Awakens” treads the same successful franchise reviving path forged by “Jurassic World” earlier in the year. It might not be the ground-breaking, innovative, completely different “Star Wars” movie people claim to want, but it’s the best “Star Wars” we’ve had in thirty years. Best of all, I got to see The Force awaken in Mertmas, as pure “Star Wars” goodness exploded from the screen and indelibly into his brain for the rest of his life. “Star Wars” in every sense now belongs to a new generation and I couldn’t be happier.