Film review - Star Wars: The Force Awakens marks sensational return for sci-fi series
Our favourite space opera is back, and it feels beautiful. Director J. J. Abrams gets almost everything right in a film that’s a throwback to the series’ 1977 debut and mercifully light on CGI effects
After months of hysteria, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is upon us. Expectations are already astronomically high for Episode VII of the George Lucas-originated sci-fi phenomenon. But somehow, they’re exceeded here. For those not initiated into this world of Wookies, Droids and the Jedi, it may be lost on you; for the rest of us, this is the Star Wars film we’ve been dreaming of for 30-odd years.
Sensationally directed by J.J. Abrams, who has already revitalised rival sci-fi series Star Trek with two credible movies, The Force Awakens is a film of hugely smart decisions: Hiring screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who co-wrote the series’ best episode, The Empire Strikes Back; reassembling many of the original cast, and eschewing the CG-led visuals that dominated the hugely disappointing Lucas-directed 1999-2005 prequel trilogy.
Even the opening words of the credits crawl, bringing us up to speed with events, send chills down the spine: “Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Where is he? That question drives much of The Force Awakens as Carrie Fisher’s Resistance leader Leia – Luke’s sister – sends her most daring pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) to the desert planet of Jakku to find a clue to the whereabouts of Skywalker, hero of the original films and now the last of the mystical Jedi warriors.
Dameron’s mission introduces us to a whole new array of characters – from his super-cute spherical robot BB-8 to desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has been left on Jakku by her folks, to Finn (John Boyega), a rogue Stormtrooper who abandons his detail and becomes embroiled in the quest to find Luke. Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the masked apprentice of The First Order, the nefarious militaristic organisation that has risen from the ashes of the defeated Empire.
If much of this sounds familiar, it’s because Abrams and Kasdan deliberately echo the original 1977 movie Star Wars: A New Hope. Jakku is akin to Luke’s home planet of Tatooine; a scene set in the palace of the mysterious, goggle-eyed Maz Kanata (12 Years A Slave’s Lupita Nyong’o, via motion-capture) recalls the classic Cantina; The First Order’s planet-zapping Starkiller Base is like an inflated Death Star.
The return of Harrison Ford’s space pirate Han Solo and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) provides the most triumphant arc here – liable to leave all the fan boys and fly boys with a tear in their eye. But intriguingly, led by the impressive Ridley, this is the most female-driven of the Star Wars films – with Fisher, Nyong’o and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, as The First Order’s metal-clad Captain Phasma, all prominent.
Abrams, meanwhile, directs the action with verve – relishing the chance to swoop his camera around familiar craft like the X-Wings, the TIE Fighters and Solo’s Millennium Falcon.
Are there any niggles? Arguably the casting of Girls star Driver as Kylo Ren – a character far scarier when he keeps his mask on. But in what is the most emotional Star Wars film to date, you’ll scarcely notice. This is more than just a nostalgia trip: Star Wars is back and it feels beautiful.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens on December 17