Review: Star Wars - The Force Awakens (12A)

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with the Stormtroopers in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with the Stormtroopers in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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There is a sense of destiny about this seventh episode in the on-going Star Wars saga. And as new characters are introduced, so fresh links with the past are forged, thus allowing director JJ Abrams and returning writer Lawrence Kasdan to push forward with confidence.

That confidence comes courtesy of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, the bright and feisty new hopes of this mighty continuation. And with them comes a mood of optimism that this latest adventure can match the ones that spawned it long ago.

Well, not quite. The Force Awakens faces a huge task. It must honour the original trilogy (and its characters) whilst building the foundations of an entirely new series.

In that respect it is densely populated with an array of heroes and villains, new planets, and new hardware. We are taken on an interstellar speed ride, seeing new worlds through the wide eyes of young innocents.

Yet it is all very familiar. Consequently it is hard to shake off the feeling that much of what is being played out has been seen before.

The Imperial Empire has given way to a new republic, which is threatened by the rise of the First Order. What was once the Rebellion is now the Resistance. And if there are remnants of the old brave band – spunky Princess Leia is now weary General Organa – there are also newcomers prepared to risk all for freedom.

If Star Wars was a simple tale of good versus evil, then The Force Awakens takes the blueprint and extends it. This truly is the launch pad for an alternate Star Wars universe.

Kasdan and Abrams opt for the comfort of familiarity. Thus Han Solo has returned to his smuggling ways. The world of newcomer Maz Kanata resembles the cantina in Mos Eisley. And fascistic General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) represents every extremist Imperial officer that ever strutted the hallways of the Death Star.

The Force Awakens begins as a thrill ride and never really lets up. But this is story punctuated with action, and not the other way around. Ridley and Boyega rise to the challenge of carrying the film and Harrison Ford brings his customary dash to his ageing pirate.

Visually this is a stunning, eye-popping entry in the franchise. There is a sense of a much bigger world beyond the one we know, and much bigger relationships to explore. It’s just a matter of choosing sides.

Diehard fans will enjoy the jokes, one-liners and face pulling, much of it from Ford as he resurrects his best-loved icon. But this is a film that looks forward, not back, laying the groundwork for many more to come.

Think Marvel’s ever-expanding Avengers universe and this new Star Wars series makes sense. The trick is to interlock and connect the various strands. JJ Abrams has done that. Many will applaud him for it. Some will not.

Tony Earnshaw

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