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Star Wars: The Force Awakens first review: 'quite simply a masterpiece - and Skellig Michael looks epic on film'

Chris Wasser

Published 16/12/2015 | 07:34

Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Disney/Lucasfilm/AP)

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” We’d be lying if we said we didn’t squeal a little when that intro finally flashed before our eyes. This is it. This is the culmination of three years’ worth of secrets, rumours, trailers and the occasional production trip to Skellig Michael.

5*

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Indeed, ever since Star Wars creator George Lucas handed over the keys to his universe to Disney, the hype has been nothing short of extraordinary, with the Mickey Mouse Corporation deploying a meticulously-crafted marketing strategy for Episode VII (the first Star Wars movie in a decade), the likes of which we’ve never before experienced. The pressure was on.

The last trilogy (a series of prequels to the original saga) kinda sucked. The plan going forward was to create something special; something confident and spectacular – an accessible and cleverly-constructed sequel, perhaps, with one eye on the past (when good-old Han Solo and his band of ramshackle warriors went up against that ghastly buckethead, Darth Vader) and another on the future (The Force Awakens is the first instalment of a new trilogy).

So, what’s the verdict? Well, Disney already knew it, director J.J. Abrams sure as hell knew it and now, finally, we know it, too. The lads delivered - The Force Awakens is, truly, a stunning exercise in large-scale filmmaking; a beautifully-assembled picture in which Abrams combines a magnificent cast with a marvellous flair for big-screen, sci-fi storytelling. Do we really need to say ‘spoiler alert’? We thought as much.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens is the latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise
Star Wars: The Force Awakens still from full trailer

The gist is that, 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the world famous Luke Skywalker has gone AWOL. How come? Dunno, but someone had better find him, because the evil Galactic Empire has become the First Order, and there are way too many Storm Troopers for the Resistance (formerly the Rebel Alliance) to contend with.

There’s a new big bad in town (a genuinely terrifying Adam Driver as Kylo Ren) and he’s also in a hurry to find the Skywalker fella. The message is clear – the galaxy will go boom if someone doesn’t stand up to Ren and his mysterious boss.

Luckily, one of Ren’s troopers grows a conscience, and before anyone has a chance to yell ‘traitor’, the kind-hearted Finn (John Boyega) crosses over to the good side, rescuing a captured pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac) and literally crash-landing into the life of young Rey (Daisy Ridley), who’s about to swap her days of collecting scrap metal for an intergalactic war adventure aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Which is where Harrison Ford and his loyal companion, Chewbacca, come in. Save the galaxy, show the newbies how it’s done, re-discover the Force, dispense with a handful of snappy one-liners, learn how to use a lightsaber and find the missing Jedi. Simple.

If it looks as though Abrams has compiled something of a double A-side, it’s because he has. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia) and, eventually, Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) all comprise the roles that made them stars (our favourite bots, R2-D2 and C-3PO also pop up), but this is so much more than a big-budget stroll down memory lane.

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Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The tone, in fact, is perfect and Abrams devotes just as much, if not more, screen time to the newcomers (Boyega and Ridley are brilliant). It’s a testament to the story and its wonderful use of humour, warmth and characterisation that The Force Awakens manages to succeed on practically every level.

The acting is superb; the chemistry, outstanding. True, Domhnall Gleeson hams it up slightly as a First Order General, but hey, what use is a cinematic baddie if he isn’t a little bonkers?

Meanwhile, Harrison Ford hasn’t brought this much enthusiasm and spark to a role in years. Are there twists and turns? Of course, but we won’t dare speak of the ties that bind this new gang together.

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What we will say, however, is that the third act is a complete game-changer. The set-pieces and battle sequences are breath-taking. The decision to focus less on green screens and more on practical effects has paid off, too (I want that new orange droid for Christmas).

In short, believe the hype. An awesome and thoroughly spectacular experience, with a phenomenal score courtesy of John Williams, The Force Awakens is, quite simply, a masterpiece.

Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Carrie Fisher in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
John Boyega and Harrison Ford in Star Wars: The Force Awakens second TV spot
An image taken from the Star Wars YouTube channel of a scene from the trailer for Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

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