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Film Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens

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★★★★

The franchise that defined a generation returns to world-stomping form, and all without a single Jar Jar or trade route in sight. 

There’s no escaping it, Star Wars is back and in full-force, having ditched its former fearless (and apparently incapable) creator for a new set of wheels. And the results are really rather remarkable. 

The Force Awakens, serving as Episode VII in the overall saga and the first to continue on from the classic trilogy since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, finds an entirely new set of heroes at the series’ helm. To reveal anything at all about the film’s plot feels too close to spoilers though, considering how on-point Disney’s marketing has been (a genuinely rare triumph) but rest assured, there’s a good mix of classical Star Wars storytelling in play here, but driven by a truly exceptional young cast. 

After all, this is a new chapter in the saga; Star Wars for a completely new generation, and the film’s head-honcho J.J. Abrams seems to take all of the hype and anxiety that comes with such a monumental task firmly in his stride. 

This isn’t another Star Trek-style greatest hits montage, nor is it a completely independent reimagining of an existing universe; it’s an expansion, filled with beautifully orchestrated new ideas which mould neatly together with the old ones and, in many cases, even manage to make them shine that much brighter. This is Episode VII through and through: a real Star Wars film packed with all the joy and wonder of the original trilogy. Time to take that long exhale of relief; the series that changed it all is finally great again. 

A monumentally huge part of what makes The Force Awakens work in this way is actually its new characters: an exquisitely arranged troop of well-defined individuals, each complete with a living, breathing backstory that feels - even for a film set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - incredibly genuine. Each stand out in their own way, forming an entire collection of potential fan favourites, who compliment one another and the film’s overall story perfectly. 

Daisy Ridley’s Rey owns the film’s best action sequences, whilst it’s actually John Boyega’s Finn who nails the more complex emotional beats, and Oscar Isaac’s Poe who stands as the seasoned pro overall. There’s plenty of other new talent and familiar faces dotted around too (keep an eye out for an almost unlimited number of random cameos) but in all honesty, the one that unsurprisingly trumps them all is Adam Driver’s big-bad Kylo Ren. 

He may have sparked plenty of excitement from his appearances in the trailers, but Ren is defined by far more than just his insanely cool get-up. Driver marks him out as one of the most psychologically complex characters the Star Wars universe has ever seen; a multi-faceted villain that rivals even the likes of Vader and co. There’s so much going on beneath the mask that if anything, one ultimately leaves wanting even more than what we’re given - and that’s really quite a lot. 

Obviously the old favourites still pop up to take their bows too, but don’t be mistaken: this is very much the newbies’ story through and through, and as welcome as the likes of Han and Chewie are, for the most part they stand firmly out of the spotlight.  

It was a bold move of Abrams to do so: one of the film’s key appeals is seeing the classic characters back in action, but in handling Episode VII in the way he has, Abrams has carved an even more exciting path for the series, built on genuine, long-lasting foundations. This is truly the start of something new and far, far bigger than any Star Wars fan has seen yet. 

As a film in its own right, The Force Awakens is fierce, funny and tremendously entertaining at every turn (and there’s certainly plenty of them), but as the first step in a new direction for the franchise, it’s unmissable. 

It’s incredibly unusual for any one film to receive as much hype as this one in the months (and even years) leading up to its release, and even more bizarre for it to live up to that hype, yet somehow Abrams manages it. Cinema-goers of all ages will be amazed, a new generation of lightsaber-loving kids will be inspired, and life-long fans of the universe will leave punching the air with both joy and excitement for the next chapter. 

We can nitpick, but in all honesty, this is a total home-run for everyone involved. It’s taken a while but at long last, the force is well and truly strong in this one.  

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), directed by J.J. Abrams, is released in the UK by Walt Disney Studios. Certificate 12A. 

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