The new Star Wars film returns to the 1977 original for inspiration, adding new faces, fabulous creatures and a warmly human script, helping the series rediscover its soul and sense of humour after three turgid CGI-heavy prequels. Like one of its characters, we feel ‘the pull of the light’ and end up agreeing with another: ‘my dear friend, how I missed you.’
Director JJ Abrams has refreshed the Star Wars franchise in the same way as he breathed new life into Star Trek (2009). Assembling many of the original cast, a reliably stirring score by John Williams and a script co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi), all the ingredients are in place for a hugely enjoyable and immersive experience.
Fans will spot many similarities between the 1977 original and The Force Awakens. The plot involves a droid carrying a secret, a conflicted baddie with family ‘issues’ (Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and a young apprentice (Daisy Ridley as Rey) who feels the force. There is a bar scene comparable to the Cantina original, a Death Star (Starkiller Base) and lightsabres wielded on vertiginous grey walkways.
Most of all, it is the presence of old-timers Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) – 30 years on – who recall former glories. Composer and writers ensure that the scenes between them are surprisingly moving.
This warmth extends to the new young leads who enjoy most screen-time. Unlike their wooden counterparts in George Lucas’s ill-advised trio of prequel films, Rey and Finn (John Boyega) are immediately engaging. We first meet Rey on the planet Jakku, scavenging for machine parts inside the carcasses of (space) ship wrecks. She sledges down a mountainous sand dune and trades her booty for a ‘quarter portion’ with an ugly creature who could be descended from Jabba the Hut.
When she meets Finn, an ex-stormtrooper who has defected to the Resistance, she is fighting off three assailants. Fey is feisty, kickass and independent and certainly needs no male help: ‘stop taking my hand’ she tells him as they try to escape. Boyega, so impressive in Attack the Block, has star quality. His leap into the Star Wars stratosphere from Peckham is a heartwarming story. His parents had previously never heard of Star Wars. The London accent might not have worked for Abrams, but his American will do just fine and the young man is taking it all in his stride.
As you would expect, there are exhilarating action sequences as Rey and Finn join Han Solo in the Milennium Falcon, escaping from the fascist forces of the First Order and trying to piece together the puzzle that will lead them to missing Jedi Luke Skywalker. But the small-scale human is never dwarfed by soulless CGI effects: The Force Awakens is paradoxically down-to-earth. As the orchestrating director, Abrams makes sure we feel and laugh, rather than just say ‘Wow!’
Highlights for me included the new roller-droid, BB-8, doing his own version of a ‘thumbs-up’, Kylo Ren’s lightsabre tantrums, a mutant warthog and vulture and a voracious multi-legged monster that looked like it had escaped from Monster’s Inc.