Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt and (based on the characters) George Lucas
Running Time: 135 mins
Release date: 17th December 2015
December 1977. Queuing up around the block of the ABC Enfield, a small child was brimming with excitement at a movie that had taken America by storm and was now going to do the same in the UK. It didn’t disappoint. Sitting with his mouth wide open, the boy was in awe at the sight on-screen, following the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia for the very first time in Star Wars. July 1999. That same boy, now older, left the Vue, North Finchley utterly crushed, as having sat through The Phantom Menace, hoping to recapture that feeling he felt all those years ago, were dashed by over complicated plotting, an assault on the senses by too much CGI, flat, heartless characteristics and, of course, Jar Jar Binks.
Now, almost 40 years after the original, George Lucas, the creator, has sold his franchise to Disney and they, in turn, have handed it over to J.J.Abrams. Can the man who revamped Star Trek so successfully do the same for Star Wars? Can he bring that magic that was so badly missing from the prequels back to the cinema? If any can, he can. And he has. For Star Wars: The Force Awakes is everything Episodes I, II and III weren’t and everything episodes VI, V and IV were.
Years after the Empire was destroyed, a new threat is growing in The First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke and his protegé, Kylo Ren. Desperate to find the last remaining Jedi, Luke Skywalker, they discover that a map of his whereabouts, is hidden inside a droid, BB-8. Lost and needing someone to return the droid to the Rebellion, BB-8 runs into Rey, a scavenger who can fend for herself. With the help of renegade Stormtrooper, Fin, the pair travel across the galaxy being pursued by the First Order, and with the help of some old friends, to find the missing Jedi.
Those of you worried that I will give anything away can read on quite merrily. I won’t. What I will say, is that we are in very safe hands indeed with Abrams. Understanding everything that worked in the first three original films, he has tried to capture that feeling of vastness, of the real, of a huge scale without having to resort to computer graphics. So we get everything that made these films so successful in the first place: dogfights, laser shoot-outs, sword and sorcery and characters you really care about. To help it along the way, he has assembled the original cast as well, just to make us old fans feel even happier.
The plot zips along at a cracking pace, managing to skip over any plot holes or contrivances without you even noticing. Not a second of film is wasted with too much exposition. Instead he allows time for the new characters to develop and for the old ones to, well, just be themselves. It also allows us to be excited about the franchise again, like we were all those years ago. From the moment it starts, with the green Lucasfilm logo and that now legendary sentence, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”, to John Williams’s classic score and the scrolling plot explanation, we are off and running, right in the heart of the action as if we haven’t even been away. And it never stops.
Mixing old familiar faces with new characters destined to take the franchise further brings in heaps of fun as well as a warm feeling of familiarity. Within the new cast, Daisy Ridley as Rey is terrific. Looking like a cross between Keira Knightley and Emma Watson, she is tough, energetic and the most ballsy heroine this side of Princess Leia. John Boyega as her sidekick, Finn, is equally good, bringing an element of fun and humour to the proceedings, something that was sorely lacking in the prequels. These two will become overnight sensations and their lives will never be the same again.
On the dark side, Domhnall Gleeson goes all out panto villain as General Hux while Adam Driver as the new Vader, Kylo Ren, is allowed to have moments where he isn’t just a one-dimensional baddie but one with real emotions. Yet all these newcomers to the series cannot out-class Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Maybe a lot older but no less wiser, it makes the hairs stand up when he and his “walking carpet” make their first appearance on-screen and he steals every scene he’s in (which is a lot!), while Carrie Fisher’s Leia, minus the buns, still has that toughness about her, even if her scenes are relatively brief.
As you may have gathered, I loved every 137 minutes of it. I laughed, I cried, I got excited and even my breath was taken away by the final shot (which will go down in history as one of the greatest, trust me!) It is everything a Star Wars film should be and more. For the whole time I sat there, I was transported back to the ABC Enfield, wide-eyed and even wider mouth. J.J, you have done a magnificent job, and I thank you.