4 stars
The year's (possibly the decade's if not the century's) most anticipated film arrived with a bang even before it arrived.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke box office records long before it opened with pre-sales that were, ahem, out of this galaxy. It is an achievement certainly, but not one that can be done by film-nerd alone. A lot of people we're feeling the love and desperately hoping that director JJ Abrams wouldn't do to them what George Lucas did to himself. Which is to lay an egg. Several in fact – one for each of Star Wars: Parts One, Two and Three.

With more words written about Star Wars: The Force Awakens than any other film on this or any other planet, we'll stick to the point. Is it any good? Did Abrams get it right or forever assign his career to a garbage compactor? Yes it is good, very good. Mostly.

The seventh film in the series, set some thirty years ahead of Return Of The Jedi (1983), finds a resurgent Empire, now known as The First Order, on the hunt for Jedi master Luke Skywalker who has gone into hiding. Also resurgent is the Resistance, now led by General (formerly Princess) Leia, whose mission it is to take down the Order before they re-conquer the galaxy. Already you get a sense of having been here before because, at it's most basic (and it's not particularly subtle about it either), The Force Awakens is little more than a thinly disguised remix of A New Hope. Abrams simply takes the best elements of that film and retells the story.

Consequently we have an aged warrior hiding in the desert and a masked sorcerer who, with the help of a planet-sized killing machine, is hell-bent on universal annihilation. We have legions of Storm Troopers and more villains in dark suits. There is a loveable android with a secret message destined for one, important, person. There's a young, bickering couple who, aided by The Force, will see the message through. Then there's R2D2, C3PO, Chewie, Hans and the Millennium Falcon. There are X-Wings and Tie Fighters, exploding planets, exhilarating battle scenes, scorched deserts and the possibility of love. In short, everything you hoped for. Everything. What's missing is much in the way of awe-inspiring originality.

Just as he did with Star Trek, Abrams plays it safe and cherry picks the very best from the Star Wars universe and distills it into something pure and immediately recognisable. There's a sense that there was more but in the interests of avoiding a blown out runtime, those ideas were left on the shelf for another day. So what we get is a glorified recap of the past six films re-presented as a kick-off for the next franchise. Rather like we did with Star Trek.

Yet for all that familiarity, there is a freshness that blows throughout the film. It helps that Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders Of The Lost Ark) co-scripts with Abrams. Together they manage the impossible and turn something totally derivative into something so apparently, forcefully and pleasingly new. Sure there are some ropey moments: at 74 Harrison Ford no longer runs from danger quite the way you'd want Hans Solo to run, while Domhnall Gleeson turns in an near-hysterical performance as evil General Hux. But these are minor quibbles. This succeeds because its writers believe in the value of humour and humanity. Because in Adam Driver they have a formidable villain. Because Abrams understands the power of pacing and timing. Because he has sensational craftspeople at his command, and he knows how to use them.

If you were hoping that Abrams would revitalise the Star Wars franchise, to deliver on the promise of a story that came from a galaxy far, far away, rest easy. Although you've seen it before (perhaps because you have), The Force Awakens is the best Star Wars movie since A New Hope. Some would say the best Star Wars movie ever, and there's a good argument for that too.


Previewed at Hoyts EQ, Sydney on 17 November 2015

Diasy Ridley
Adam Driver
Harrison Ford
John Bodega
Oscar Isaac
Carrie Fisher

JJ Abrams

JJ Abrams
Lawrence Kasdan



135 minutes

December 17, 2015
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) on IMDb
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