Star Wars: The Force Awakens

After what seems like an eternity of waiting, Star Wars is back on the big screen. The Force Awakens has won over the critics (currently sitting pretty with a 95% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), a success that is reflected in its early box office takings.

Officially claiming the biggest opening weekend of any film in the US and UK, Jurassic World’s world record was only missed by around £5 million, despite The Force Awakens not even opening in China until January (Jurassic World pulled off the difficult trick of opening in all major territories at the same time).

So was the hype valid? Is it really as good as the reviews and box office takings suggest?

The simple answer is yes… for the most part. Director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Super 8) walks the tightrope between reverence and revitalisation, updating the Star Wars universe in a manner that will seem very familiar to those who grew up watching the original trilogy.

The Force Awakens echoes the older films extensively in places. Aside from the return of Han Solo (Harrison Ford), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the film contains a number of similarities to the saga’s opening chapter, A New Hope. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.

For all of its faults (and oh, there were a lot of faults) the prequel trilogy never suffered from the feeling that we were going over old ground – for every annoying Jar Jar Binks or Annie in The Phantom Menace, creator George Lucas brought us something fresh and exciting like podracing or Darth Maul. Even so, most of the nods and parallels work well in The Force Awakens… apart from the Starkiller Base, which kind of just feels like an idea Abrams was forced to drop from his Star Trek reboot due to its obvious similarities to the Death Star.

This is the only criticism that can be levelled at The Force Awakens with any real conviction.

Generally speaking, the film is a massive triumph. The world we enter feels like a proper continuation of the original trilogy, where the events of Episodes IV-VI have become almost legendary among the younger inhabitants of the galaxy, like the Clone Wars was to the previous generation.

The new faces don’t just fit in; they stand out in all the right ways. For most of the film we are either following protagonists Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) or the shadowy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who all live up to their promise and will surely be Hollywood mainstays long after Episode XI wraps up.

The script feels bouncy and fresh and is peppered with humour – any screen-time shared by Finn and hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is guaranteed to generate laughs.

After lauded turns in Inside Llewyn Davis and Ex Machina, Oscar Isaac is fast becoming one of the most welcome additions to any film. It’s great to see him enter the blockbuster arena and continue to bring his trademark swagger and cool – a feat that will hold him in good stead as he joins the rebooted X-Men as the titular villain of 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse.

In summary, what we were given here was a chance to re-establish Star Wars as a cinematic force, and the new film has achieved this with aplomb.

Just as exciting as what made it into The Force Awakens is what has been left out, and most people probably left the cinema with more questions than they had when they went in with (although after Lost, does anyone expect any less from a J.J. Abrams creation?)

The mysteries and unfurling plots should develop into a cracking Episode VIII/IX. If the next director to step up to the plate, Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick), can build on the world created here (and somehow find a little sprinkling of the Lucas magic that was maybe missing), then there’s no reason to doubt that the best is yet to come.

Before Episode VIII, however, we’ll get to finally witness the Rebel raid that stole the Death Star plans and set in motion the events of A New Hope in the first of the Star Wars Anthology series, Rogue One, coming in December 2016.

It’s been a while, but the Force is indeed strong with the Star Wars saga again.

Terry Ruffhead