Star Wars: The Force Awakens review – “an irresistible box of delights that will leave you begging for more”

"Episode VII is a thoroughly winning combination of textured science fiction, flights of sheer fantasy and high adventure," says Alan Jones

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★★★★★

When George Lucas created the Star Wars universe back in 1977 and changed the face of intergalactic entertainment forever, he provided the baseline for endless possibilities, sequels and TV spin-offs. Some of those were terrific like The Empire Strikes Back, others missed the sense of wonder mark by miles ie the entire second trilogy, and a few were just mad – Caravan of Courage and the 1978 “Holiday Special” anyone? So when Disney bought the franchise in a massive banner deal and put the seventh film instalment into production there was as much apprehension as anticipation.

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Well, rest easy Fandom of the World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the real deal, a major homecoming for what we all loved about the original movie; its space opera cheerfulness, vibrant character charm, gripping cosmic cliffhangers, zippy dog-fights and epic scale action executed with supreme technical virtuosity and canny ingenuity. Capturing the spirit and sense of swashbuckling fun we all remember being seared into our collective conscious the first time around, this is a thoroughly winning combination of textured science fiction, flights of sheer fantasy and high adventure. And a superior entry in the celestial cycle as a whole.

Thank series veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his co-writers Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and JJ Abrams for hewing close to the original template and putting invigorating new and gratifying old unforgettable characters into a visually compelling war story while keenly accenting the key messages of finding strength within and the importance of community and family. Just as he did with Star Trek, Abrams, with his directing hat on, treats this mega reboot with an unfailing deftness, clued-in reverence to its heritage value and takes full command of the mystery, mysticism and core mythology. He claims to have been scared to death of the challenge, but only someone with the utmost respect and love for the material could have pulled off this awesome feat.  

Set 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire in Return of the Jedi , the last remaining Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), has gone into hiding in a far corner of the universe. A map to his exact location has been secreted in a BB-8 astromech droid, which orphan scrap metal scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) saves from being junked. Finn (John Boyega) is a defecting Stormtrooper, repulsed by the mass slaughters being carried out by evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his First Order army, who joins Rey and her saviours, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), along with resistance head Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), to find Luke first and keep the last vestige of the Force alive. I don’t want to be any more detailed than that except to say… brace yourselves!

The extraordinary accomplishment achieved by Abrams is how close he has come to virtually remaking the original Star Wars but tweaked the concept in exactly the right ways to speak to a new generation who will take it into their hearts in much the same way older fans did. It’s a fast-paced seamless meld of non-stop action, engaging thrills and spills, deepening narrative threads, stunning special effects and moments of series nostalgia. Wonderful to see the Millennium Falcon, X-Wings and TIE Fighters again, but equally memorable are the refreshed cantina set piece, the original on deck creature chessboard, the Darth Vader walkway and the snatches of iconic dialogue.

While resounding cheers will meet the introduction of the classic cast members, this irresistible box of delights features a roster of brilliant young actors bound to keep audiences enthralled as their fates progress through projected episodes. Adam Driver couldn’t be a more hissable villain as Kylo Ren and the darkest moment in the entire movie belongs to him alone. Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux is chilling as an ersatz Hitler controlled by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in fine form as a Big Unfriendly Giant). Daisy Ridley is perfect as the can-do scavenger who is clearly going to realise her destiny and find her identity as per the sudden cellar flashback sequence when she touches a historic lightsaber. But the biggest impression is made by John Boyega who captures Finn’s conflicted manner exactly: one moment he’s bravado personified, the next a scared amateur, yet he expertly holds both together with a nice line in self-deprecating humour.  BB-8 is cute too in that irrepressible WALL-E way.

Beginning with the annihilation of an entire Jakku village and ending on the mother of lightsaber battles, beautifully staged in snowy woodland, the final enigmatic shots will have you begging for more. Especially as by this time it will have become completely obvious that the platinum-plated Star Wars franchise is now in exactly the right hands for it to flourish and grow even more important to one’s movie-nurtured well-being. The space odyssey phenomenon has finally been returned in rude health from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…. 

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released in cinemas on Thursday 17 December