Star Wars: The Force Awakens (5 stars)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

JJ Abrams' confident direction ensures a triumphant return for the beloved space saga

After all the hype, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is here – and fans can rejoice. Episode VII is sensational. With JJ Abrams directing, the saga is in safe hands – something that can be sensed from the very first sentence of the traditional text ‘crawl’ that fills in the back-story, some 30 years on from when Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, took place. No waffle about trade federations, which dogged series creator George Lucas’ 1999 prequel The Phantom Menace; instead the chilling words: ‘Luke Skywalker has vanished’.

From the ashes of the defeated Empire a new villainous power-hungry outfit, the First Order, has risen – desperate to destroy Luke, the last remaining Jedi. But where is he? Resistance leader, and Luke’s sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher) has sent her most daring pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and droid BB-8 to the desert planet of Jakku to pick up his trail. But this is just the beginning of a finely-crafted script that smartly nods to Lucas’ original films, echoing characters, set-ups and locations.

New figures – desert scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), rogue Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) – dominate the story. But it’s the return of old favourites Han Solo (Harrison Ford), his Wookiee co-pilot Chewbacca and robots R2-D2 and C-3PO that bring a lump to the throat. Credit to Abrams and his team too: everything about this universe feels right, from the junked Star Destroyers on Jakku to Solo’s twinkle-eyed humour.

With Abrams only employing CGI where necessary, the action is all-consuming (one camera swoop behind Solo’s legendary ship, the Millennium Falcon, is mind-blowing) but it never overpowers the performances. What’s really surprising too is just how emotional it all is. More than just nostalgia, The Force Awakens earns its tears. Star Wars is back in a big way: as C-3PO might say, thank the maker.

General release from Thu 17 Dec.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

  • 5 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 2h 16min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: JJ Abrams
  • Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt
  • Cast: John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker
  • UK release: 17 December 2015

From the ashes of the Empire, the villainous First Order rises up to destroy Luke Skywalker (Hamill) – but where is he? Fans can rejoice: Episode VII is sensational and surprisingly emotional, with a finely-crafted script and effects that never overpower the performances. Star Wars is back in a big way.