Stars align for return to form
A decade after the stodgy prequels left a bad taste in the mouths of fans and critics alike, it’s time to travel back to a galaxy far, far away for the first in a brand new Star Wars trilogy.
As soon as John Williams’s familiar theme hit and the opening text crawl made its way up the screen, I was transported back to my childhood, and, while the toy lightsaber was missing from my side this time around, I spent much of the next two hours-plus grinning like a giddy schoolboy.
After resurrecting the Star Trek series to impressive effect, JJ Abrams seemed a very wise choice to step behind the camera – and so it proves as the New Yorker restores the fans’ faith by taking a Jurassic World-style approach.
Nostalgia is the running theme, from the decision to recast old favourites Harrison Ford (Han), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Mark Hamill (Luke) to the use of wipes for transition shots and parallel editing jumping from mission to mission.
Abrams also co-wrote the script with Episode V and VI scribe Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and, while it’s clear they knew what worked and didn’t work in previous Star Wars entries, the story is similar to franchise starter A New Hope. Too similar.
Once again we have a young orphan with a Force-themed destiny living on a desert planet, Daisy Riley’s Rey, a key plot device hidden inside a droid – the adorable BB-8 – and a masked menace out to destroy the galaxy using a giant superweapon.
There’s comfort in the familiarity but it would’ve been nice to see the endearing fresh characters given their own path to shine.
The mid-section also sags slightly with an emphasis on chat, although we’re far from the prequels’ mind-numbing trade deal debates and midichlorian Jedi exposition.
For the first 45 minutes it’s all about the newbies and it’s they who dominate proceedings throughout, not the old guard ... and, boy, are they up to the task.
Riley and fellow Brit John Boyega (Finn) are wonderful as the brave adventure-seeker and stormtrooper-with-a-heart, respectively. Oscar Isaac’s daring pilot Poe is an exercise in witty cool and Domhnall Gleeson channels his inner Peter Cushing as smarmy baddie General Hux.
Speaking of baddies, Adam Driver almost steals the film as Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren. Whether it’s torturing our heroes or exhibiting hyper temper tantrums, this is a villain worthy of comparison to his idol.
Ford is a blast as a grizzly mentor to the fresh blood and most of the old favourites make crowdpleasing appearances.
Shocks? There are more than a few but – don’t worry – you won’t find any spoilers here.
Go in knowing as little as possible and sit back and enjoy the laughs (it’s the funniest in the series), awesome action and wintry lightsaber duels in a rollicking ride that’s a great set-up for the next two instalments.
Thank you, JJ Abrams.
Head for cover Riley and Boyega under attack