Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

I was a lad of 14 when Star Wars opened across Australia, in May of 1978. From the goosebump-inducing opening theme and that iconic moment when Princess Leia's rebel blockade runner comes zooming overhead chased by the Star Destroyer, I was blown away and mesmerised – I had never seen anything like it before. I was thrilled, engrossed and enchanted – and most of all entertained. Boy, was that Star Wars film a whole heap of fun. I returned to the cinema another five times (and four more at the drive-in after that) to venture into space once again with Luke, Han and Leia. I fell in love with the worlds that George Lucas had created and the characters who lived, loved and fought for justice in those worlds. That love continued, and grew, through Empire and Jedi – with The Empire Strikes back easily the best of those original three movies. Then, sadly, in the late 1990s, Lucas poured a barrel of ice-cold water over the burning flame of that love with his much-maligned (and rightfully so) prequel trilogy.

Thankfully, then, along have come JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan – he who wrote Empire, and co-wrote Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark – to right the wrongs commited by Lucas, and restore our faith in the Force. And restore it they do, in spades. The Force Awakens is THE Star Wars film we have been waiting for since 1983, since the final credits rolled on Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens is a sequel that has come 32 years after the last film, and the good news is you only need to have seen the original trilogy to follow the story – thus, hopefully, consigning those prequels to the dustbin of history. And the plot? Ah yes, the plot – one of 2015's best-kept secrets, and when you see TFA you too will marvel at just how clever the marketing campaign for this film has been. We know that Luke, Han and Leia are all back (along with a whole host of other familiar faces), but in what capacity? Well, I'm not going to say – just be advised that you will want to see this film knowing as little as possible. Most of the joy is having the story unfold, and the surprises being exactly what they are meant to be: a surprise.

The Force Awakens reminded me what it was like to be that 14-year-old boy watching Star Wars for the first time

What will come as no surprise is that there are some new characters introduced – the torch is clearly being passed to a new generation. And what wonderful characters they are, especially young Rey, played by British newcomer Ridley. What a revelation this young woman in – clearly one to watch as her career takes off after this – and what a brilliant character she brings to the Star Wars universe. Rey is a scavenger, living on the desert planet Jakku, who is dragged into the tussle between the Resistance (led by General Leia Organa) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Rey is a survivor, and a fighter – a strong, capable and single-minded woman who happens to be handy with a tool, a vehicle ... and possibly more. She teams up with young Finn (Boyega), a Stormtrooper on the run, because he's not keen on following orders to kill. And on their trail is Kylo Ren (Driver), a henchman of Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and a man who is strong with the Dark Side and a worshipper of the late Darth Vader.

George Lucas made his original Star Wars as a kind of homage to classic Saturday matinee movies, serials about cowboys and pirates and rescuing kidnapped princess and swordfights and derring-do. Abrams' The Force Awakens harkens back to those films, but updates them for whole new audience. Abrams is certainly an accomplished filmmaker in his own right, and from what he has done here it is clear he is a diehard Star Wars fan. And it's wonderful to see that the Star Wars saga is in very safe hands. He has brought spectacle and fun back to a franchise that had been devoid of both for almost two decades. Plus humour – the prequel trilogy was utterly dry and po-faced and devoid of laughs. Abrams realises that the drama needs some lightness with it, but never at the expense of the characters – we are laughing with them, not at them. And it's Ford's Han Solo, the grizzled old space pirate, who seems to have got all the best lines here (and yes, "I've got a bad feeling about this" does put in an appearance). The Force Awakens reminded me what it was like to be that 14-year-old boy watching Star Wars for the first time. It is a very good piece of filmmaking, and an almost perfect Star Wars film. Thanks, JJ, for giving us the Star Wars we deserve.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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