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Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2D and 3D)

9/10

Stars: 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, Ken Leung, Greg Grunberg

Director: J J Abrams

LetÂ’s face it.

The unstoppable avalanche of pre-preview publicity for Star Wars: The Force Awakens that has been selling the show in all media long before the movie emerged into cinemas has been so massive and so effective that reviewing J J AbramsÂ’ rousing reboot of George LucasÂ’ iconic science fiction spectacular seems more like an afterthought than a necessity.

Abrams, who co-scripted The Force Awakens with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, has vividly re-awakened a franchise that has commanded the box-office (and toyshops, too) since 1977 although, while each successive sequel made millions, the Force appeared to be becoming diluted.

Not any more.

Here Abrams hits the screen running, paying homage to the original with a rousing story-setting roll-up accompanied by the blast of John WilliamsÂ’ score and then proceeds to take us on a rollercoaster ride of action, suspense and seamless special effects centred on the search by heroes and villains alike for a missing map that will reveal where Luke Skywalker is to be found.

I donÂ’t intend to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that the storyline is more than ingenious enough to hold you and thrill you until the end credits (which, while eminently justified, seem long enough to be released as a separate second feature).

While all the hallowed icons make their mark, Abrams spends enough time introducing his two new heroes – lone, but eminently feisty and self-sufficient Scavenger Rey – perfectly played by newcomer Daisy Ridley – and renegade Stormtrooper and splendid foil Finn (John Boyega) whose opening adventures culminate in their meeting Han Solo – Harrison Ford, suitably grey and eminently ideal once more – and continuing the galaxy-wide search for the missing map and the lost Luke, a thrilling journey populated with eye-dazzling spectacle, rousing action and enough weird and wonderful aliens to satisfy devotees and newcomers alike.

And, best of all, Jar Jar Binks has gone!

All of LucasÂ’ classic creations return, some briefly (C3PO and R2D2) while Princess Leia is back, too, minus the buns that made her special.

Ford, who claims, “I used to be” when asked if he really is Solo, rightly commands the show. Happily, however, Abrams makes sure that every character makes their mark and paves the way for a sequel that will follow Ford, Ridley, Boyega and new hyper-cute spherical droid BB-8 who rolls into the franchise with potent effect (and is already featured in current press advertisements for Star War toys – now “THAT’s Show Business!”

Abrams strikes a perfect balance between character, spectacle and story. And, having proved that he could succeed splendidly by boldly going where others had boldly gone before with Star Trek, he goes even more boldly here with a surefire success.

Where a considerable amount of the force of the first film was the result of then new and mind-bending special effects, here Abrams’ punchy storytelling is as – if not more – important than mere movie magic. By now we are accustomed to seeing Oscar-worthy special effects and realise that mere eye-candy can no longer be counted upon to save a soggy story.

Because, in addition to state-of-the-art special effects that create dazzling new worlds, amazing aliens and a future filled with stunning spacecraft (as well, happily, as the return of the Millennium Falcon which, in comparison to much of the eye-and-mind-boggling spacecraft and weaponry ranged against it, is enjoyably retro, The Force Awakens boasts characters you can bond with and a narrative that is exciting, ingenious and keeps you thrilled and eminently entertained.

Incidentally, at the BAFTA screening I attended, the film was shown 'flat' and not in 3D. Which, while I doubtless missed being poked in the eyes by aliens and everything else, didn't detract from the rousing entertainment I enjoyed (except that some of the end credits looks a tad blurred).

Bring on the sequels! And soon!

Alan Frank

USA 2015. UK Distributor: Walt Disney. Colour by deluxe.
135 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Dec 2015