The Force Awakens is the Star Wars movie fans have been waiting for, lo these many years.
As much a restoration as it is a reboot of a cherished movie franchise, it’s the first return trip to that galaxy far, far away since at least 1983 that requires no excuses or apologies.
It’s a complete pleasure to behold from start to finish: from the familiar scene-setting scroll — this time pulling us into the story’s central mystery and quest — to the final triumphant notes of John Williams’ classic score. The Force Awakens isn’t just one the finest movies of 2015, it’s the best movie of the year, full stop.
In a single stroke, incoming director J.J. Abrams has accomplished a feat that series creator George Lucas was unable or unwilling to do over three underwhelming Star Wars prequels from 1999 to 2005. Much as he did for Star Trek in 2009, Abrams has revived and re-energized a sci-fi franchise that many had thought was a spent force. (His Star Trek cinematographer Dan Mindel makes full use of the wide 3D screen here, his work steadier and more flare-free than in earlier collaborations with Abrams.)
All but ignoring the muddled Star Wars prequels, Abrams and primary screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan smoothly connect events and characters from the original trilogy of 1977-83 with the new challenges and players of an emotionally rewarding saga that will eventually comprise a third trilogy. Kasdan co-wrote the two films preceding this seventh episode, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), so continuity is built right in. (Abrams and Toy Story 3’s Michael Arndt share co-writing credits.)
The seamless way original Star Wars actors Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher interact with newcomers Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac and more, through well-balanced use of drama, comedy and action, is arguably the single greatest achievement of The Force Awakens.
So much could have gone wrong but didn’t, with Ford’s cynical flyboy Han Solo in particular proving that a beloved character can return long after the fact and be more than a walk-on. The film also manages the neat trick of satisfying ardent fans — there are innumerable callbacks to favourite series moments, such as the multi-alien cantina gathering — while at the same time not overwhelming Star Wars newcomers.
Set 30 years after events of Return of the Jedi, the movie that saw Darth Vader and his evil Empire vanquished by the righteous Rebel Alliance, The Force Awakens finds new “shadows spreading across the galaxy,” to use one character’s evocative phrase.
A fresh band of “dark side” fascists called the First Order, inspired by Vader and commanded by masked warrior Kylo Ren (Driver), under the tutelage of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), seek to brutally restore the Empire’s galactic domination plan. They have in their arsenal a planet-smashing giant orb called Starkiller Base that is significantly larger than Vader’s Death Star.
Opposing them, often called to heroism by accident, are the “light side” fighters and friends of the Resistance (formerly Rebel Alliance): Ford’s Millennium Falcon pilot Solo; Fisher’s Resistance-leading General Leia Organa (formerly Princess Leia); Ridley’s scavenger loner Rey; Boyega’s renegade stormtrooper Finn; Isaac’s ace Resistance X-wing pilot Poe Dameron; and Lupita Nyong’o’s wise pirate Maz Kanata.
And what of Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, the Jedi knight whose youthful call to adventure started the series off? Rest assured that he’s not forgotten.
Don’t forget the non-human stars old and new: Peter Mayhew’s brave and hairy Millennium Falcon co-pilot Chewbacca; Anthony Daniels’ fusspot robot C-3PO; Kenny Baker’s reliable droid R2-D2; and a delightful and kinetic new rolling droid called BB-8, key to the story and destined to become a fan favourite.
More than this you don’t want to know going in, but I’ll leave you with three final thoughts: The humour is great, especially Solo’s sarcastic jabs; there’s welcome diversity to the cast, especially the strong female roles; and there are no annoying characters like Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks who exist merely to sell toys.
What more could you ask for from a Star Wars movie, or indeed from any blockbuster?