* Spoiler free *
The most wildly anticipated and furiously hyped movie of the millennium is finally here and the collective exhalation of relief can be heard around the globe if not in a galaxy far, far away. Fans can rest easy. JJ Abrams’ Star Wars reboot is a triumph.
Banishing all memories of George Lucas’s woeful prequels, Abrams barely puts a foot wrong, honouring the legacy left by the original trilogy of films instead of trashing it. In The Force Awakens, Jar Jar Binks is happily nowhere to be seen.
The legacy helps, of course. The first notes of John Williams’ iconic brass fanfare are enough to induce a warm glow and even the clunkiness of the opening crawl, laden with trilogy-bridging exposition, is somehow cheering.
Yet the important thing is that Abrams doesn’t drop the ball. With his brace of Star Trek movies, he proved his reboot mastery, bringing a sci-fi saga’s beloved characters to life for a new generation.
Here, aided by veteran screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer, of course, of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi), he successfully introduces a new clutch of characters, the most important of which are Daisy Ridley’s desert scavenger Ree and John Boyega’s conscience-stricken Stormtrooper Finn on the side of good, and Adam Driver as their menacing adversary Kylo Ren. There are some familiar faces, as well, with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and Carrie Fisher’s Leia making fan-pleasing returns.
The newcomers are the ones picking up the narrative baton, and they also seem to have inherited aspects of their predecessors’ roles. This enables Abrams to deliver variations on situations and relationships from the original films, and these echoes will be a source of pleasure for dedicated fans.
Other familiar features hit the spot, too, with Abrams giving new zip to dogfights between X-wings and Tie Fighters and the obligatory lightsaber duels. And with the tools of 21st-century Hollywood at Abrams’ disposal, when his adversaries face off, the spark, swoosh and fuzzy hum of their lightsabers sound better than ever.
The Force Awakens isn’t perfect. The need to preserve mystery for future films means that some of the characters don’t feel fully fleshed out yet. Boyega’s Finn, in particular, seems rather earnest, lacking the swashbuckling dash and irreverence of Ford’s Han, though with the original on hand and as adept with quips as ever this isn’t a serious flaw.
Indeed, it’s Ridley’s Ree who proves to be the film’s most striking new presence. A resilient, resourceful and agile warrior, she rather than the largely reactive Finn is very much the film’s protagonist. And she is one very much in tune with her era, as well. She may have inherited Fisher’s mantle as Star Wars’ leading lady, but I don’t reckon we’re going to see her in Leia’s gold bikini anytime in the sequels.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 135 mins. Director JJ Abrams