Highly-acclaimed director JJ Abrams (Star Trek) has worked his magic yet again – as he brings the biggest movie franchise of all-time for a new generation.
It just comes up shy of being near the classic status of an Empire Strikes Back or A New Hope – with The Force Awakens being more ‘very, very good’ than ‘exceptional’ – but this first effort from Abrams and Disney sits admirably between the originals and prequels in the pecking order of the seven Star Wars films.
This excellently meshes exciting new characters – Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isacc) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – with some of the old guard – Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) – to provide enough magical moments as Abrams lays solid foundations for the future.
The Force Awakens’ only real problem is familiar plot devices being re-tread – message being inserted into droid, a Death Star-esque battle and maybe a few too many similarities to previous instalments – that sometimes gives it a perfunctory feel and doesn’t quite enable it to stand out on its own maybe as much as it should.
But once you throw in the Millennium Falcon, Tie-Fighters and a hefty helping of humour – from both new and old cast members – it never falls far below the epic and grandiose spectacle that we were hoping for. In fact, it is probably exactly what most fans will expect.
This seventh episode continues some 30 or so years after The Return of the Jedi, with the First Order – made up of the remnants of the old Empire with re-tooled Stormtroopers – led by the intriguingly vulnerable ‘Dark Side-trained’ Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux under the guidance of an Emperor-esque Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), being the new menace in the galaxy.
Their current aim is to wipe out Luke Skywalker – the last remaining Jedi knight – which leads them to the desert planet of Jakku, where hot-shot pilot Poe is acquiring a map with clue’s to his whereabouts.
When Poe comes under attack he hides the plans inside new lovable droid BB-8 – taking over the R2-D2 role in a niftier and somewhat endearing fashion (Artoo and C3-PO both make cameos too) – who soon gets taken under the wing of scavenger Rey, and they in turn cross paths with disillusioned Stormtrooper Finn.
After escaping the planet in – as Rey so eloquently puts it – the ‘garbage’ that is the Falcon, which is tracked down by smuggler Solo and his loyal right-hand Wookie Chewie, this new extension of George Lucas’ Star Wars universe starts to unravel competently and rewardingly before your very eyes.
This leads to the rebel group known as The Resistance, headed by General Leia – who (which will be revealed) has become disengaged from partner Solo – finally facing up to the growing power of the First Order, which starts to put it sights on destroying peaceful planets in the Republic with its new Death Star-a-like (but about five times bigger) home base, which boasts a sun-powered super weapon.
The good thing is with The Force Awakens – which is a crucially important ingredient – is that you actually care for these new characters. This, combined with humour and nostalgia, breathes life into the franchise that was on life support (in some fan circles at least) after the much-maligned (if always passable) prequels.
Sadly (despite one really pivotal scene that will not be spoiled here) what The Force Awakens really lacks compared to even The Phantom Menace – which had the sensational stand-out Darth Maul lightsaber battle – is one truly iconic set-piece.
It never quite gives you that ‘jump out of your seat’ fist-pumping moment – but boasts loads of solid noteworthy vignettes instead that all add-up during the sci-fi’s run-time.
So what you get is a film that sizzles, without ever quite soaring, but it leaves Star Wars in a really great place for the forthcoming movies, spin-offs (and even theme park rides) and beyond.
This Abrams and Disney collaboration has truly awakened the force once again – and it’s really strong with this one. Rating: 4/5 Gavin Miller