As it says in the opening crawl (and eludes in the publicity for the film), "Luke Skywalker has vanished." Lead by General Leia Organa, the Rebellion has evolved into a Resistance against the First Order, the remnants of the Empire gathering strength, intent on exacting vengeance on the Jedi responsible instrumental in their demise. Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), AWOL storm trooper Finn (Jon Boyega) and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), along with smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) join forces to stop First Order Sith Lord, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) from locating Skywalker. Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams built upon Michael Arndt's original script and leapt off into the new trilogy using the template of the original Star Wars Trilogy. There are times that the similarity with what we've already seen from the original saga became arduous and even sickly; like being made to eat an entire block of chocolate, when you only wanted a square. However once they begin to break new ground and the new characters push the story to new heights. Kasdan and Abrams craft the characters of the new universe, especially new villain Kylo Ren, on the journey, realising their full potential instead of, as Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) were seasoned, battle tried bad guys.
J.J. Abrams had an uncompromising approach to tackling the film with practical sets and special effects to take us back to a lived in galaxy. The prequels abandoned the masterful practical production design, which had you scratching your head (both now and at the time) at the pristine technological creations, in comparison to their chronologically later 'piece of junk' counterparts. Feeling like you're on the Millennium Falcon again, 'letting the wookie win' so to speak, is like visiting an ancestral home.
Seeing Harrison Ford back in the saddle as Han Solo doesn't disappoint. The older scoundrel isn't quite as brash and cocksure as he once was; but what he lacks in that, "never tell me the odds" attitude, he now makes up in wisdom. By his side as always is the evergreen Chewbacca (played in part by Peter Mayhew), who in the words of Forrest Gump, is the carrots to Han's peas. We only had the slightest glimpses of Carrie Fisher's now General Leia, but in fairness, she's now a side character, guiding the likes of Poe and the Resistance. Almost every exchange between Han and Leia in the early stages of the original trilogy played like a 40s film noir — fast talking bluster that covered genuine affection. The major exchange between the two is a significant highlight, but it's a more seasoned enduring love, with thirty years of challenges.
Daisy Ridley is just magnificent. She's an extreme survivor on the tough 'Tatooine stand in' Jakku; living off the metallic skeletons peppering the rolling dunes. The toughness is the first striking thing about the character Rey, a metal beneath the luminescent beauty. Ridley though, like Boyega, brims with a light and sense of wonder that the audiences mirrors from the cinema seat. Her smile has a quality of a diamond in the rough from what must have been an intimidating list of international casting.
Jon Boyega's Finn is sensational. He’s a great character, bringing humour, an endearing accident-prone bravery and chivalry to the story, but he makes you reassess the potential people beneath the sanitised white Storm Trooper armour. On the front line of the First Order's pursuit to restore neo-Imperial power to the galaxy and their fierce thirst to find Skywalker, he's shaken from years of conditioning after seeing one of his faceless companions suffer a grisly death.
Adam Driver is unforgettable as Kylo Ren. He’s the instrument of Supreme Leader Snoke (motion captured in holograms by Andy Serkis), sent to acquire Skywalker by any means necessary. The intensity pours through his physical performance and he's such a different kind of tortured and determined villain. He has the acting calibre to layer the perverted desire to follow in the footsteps of the mythic Darth Vader and to face Skywalker.
Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron is instantly one of the coolest characters to be introduced to the Star Wars saga. He oozes swagger, confidence and drips with cool. Suffice to say there's a constant wrestle in my mind of who is my favourite character established in the new films because they're all just so damned good.
It's almost impossible to describe the unbelievable sense of relief as the credits roll on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This Star Wars continuation both services enduring and unyielding fans of the entire franchise, and welcomes in an entirely new generation to a galaxy far, far away. The final moments of the film will have your anticipation at a fever pitch for Rian Johnson's Episode VIII. It's incomparable to attempt to say where it stands in the original trilogy; because the impact of those films is essential to this movie fan's DNA.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens gets temporarily bogged down taking us back to the world that we left in 1983, it introduces us to the new and exciting torch-bearers of the franchise.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and
Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie
Harrison Ford ... Han Solo
Mark Hamill ... Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher ... Princess Leia
Adam Driver ... Kylo Ren
Daisy Ridley ... Rey
John Boyega ... Finn
Oscar Isaac ... Poe Dameron
Lupita Nyong'o ... Maz Kanata
Andy Serkis ... Supreme Leader Snoke
Domhnall Gleeson ... General Hux
Anthony Daniels ... C-3PO
Max von Sydow ... Lor San Tekka
Peter Mayhew ... Chewbacca
Gwendoline Christie ... Captain Phasma