Director: J.J. Abrams

Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Adam Driver

Classification: M (Science Fiction Themes and Violence)

Review by Peter Gray

Arguably one of the most anticipated films of all-time, ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ finally arrives after years of saga saturation – prequels, re-releases, animated series – that ultimately did little to satisfy the cravings of those hoping for a continuation. Under the direction of J.J. Abrams (the maestro who breathed new life into the ‘Star Trek’ franchise) the old and new are seamlessly woven together to create a fitting intergalactic soap opera that clearly has the fans best interest at heart.

Given how admired the original trilogy is it makes sense that ‘The Force Awakens’ patterns itself on those films with Abrams approaching this with an almost retro mentality, presenting us with a film that feels both incredibly modern and surprisingly vintage. Set 30 years after Episode VI – ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983), the infamous scrolling prologue that kickstarts each individual episode informs us that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last remaining Jedi, has not been seen for three decades with his whereabouts unknown. An evil government known as The First Order intend on finding Skywalker to eradicate him, whilst Skywalker’s sister Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), former princess now General, has lead her military force – the Resistance – on the same mission, only their intention is to bring him home. That’s quite a vague summation of what you’ll experience plot-wise here, but ‘The Force Awakens’, like any other big screen event, is best viewed knowing as little as possible.

Having said that, the plot is quite thin but that’s not what these films have prided themselves on, and Abrams is fully aware of this, packing his 135 minute runtime with enough explosions, flight sequences, and surprisingly effective humour to never allow a lull in the audience’s concentration. The arrival of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his loyal wookie sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) really gives the film an added jolt, and for all his reluctance over the years to re-visit this character Ford seems immensely enthused to be involved, with his character only older but none the wiser. With all the old favourites returning you’d be forgiven for assuming that a certain set of characters would be ignored in the process, but thankfully both characters old and new interact side-by-side, perhaps almost to the point of oversaturation; John Boyega’s redeemed Stormtrooper Finn, Oscar Isaac’s rogue-ish pilot Poe Dameron and heroine scavenger Rey, played by a Keira Knightley-esque Daisy Ridley, all leave their imprint but villainous conceptions like General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and First Order office Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) sadly underwhelm. None of them hold a candle though to the impression BB-8 leaves, a deliriously adorable white droid that appears tailor made to sell lots (and I mean LOTS!) of merchandise.

Given the anticipation for a film like ‘The Force Awakens’, along with a built-in fanbase that have all but guaranteed this to be the highest-grossing film of all-time, it’s very much a critic-proof affair with fans of the series already backing it and outside audiences unlikely to be swayed if the previous films haven’t nabbed their attention. A wonderfully nostalgic experience that’s far from perfect but instantly superior to the prequels we so begrudgingly accepted, this seventh episode both succeeds at pleasing the veteran fans and keeping eagerness high for what further excitement Episode VIII has in store.

My rating: 4/5

HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 14:  The cast and crew speak onstage during the World Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – DECEMBER 14: The cast and crew speak onstage during the World Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

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