I have done my best to keep this review spoiler-free and will tag any potential spoilers with **.
When the lights first dimmed, and the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away appeared” and then the theme music began, the audience cheered. We were excited, albeit a bit nervous, to see the newest episode in a film series that has, arguably, defined generations. Speaking for myself, I’ve been waiting for ten years and six months, almost to the minute, for new Star Wars.
And new, it is.
The simplest (and least spoilery) summary of the plot I can give is this: the destruction of the Empire did not end the Dark Side of the Force. Several decades after the fall of Emperor Palpatine and the death of Darth Vader, the galaxy is fractured, divided. The First Order is the regime born from the Empire’s ashes, and General Leia Organa has organized the Resistance with the help of the new Republic.
It’s the same story, with different players.
**We meet Rey, a scavenger on a desert planet (that isn’t Tattooine) with technological savvy, a mysterious past, and bad ass piloting skills. Finn was conscripted from birth to be a Storm Trooper, but after his first time in the field, he decides to follow a different path. Lastly, we have BB8, a quirky droid with information that could help save the galaxy. Together, they team with some legends of the Rebellion to defeat the First Order’s weapon of galactic destruction and stop the Dark Side’s new poster child: Kylo Ren.**
The narrative is a finely laid balance between the past and the future. The story plays on familiar themes and imagery, but unlike the Star Wars prequels that defined my childhood, we do not know the end game for Kylo Ren. We always knew that Anakin Skywalker would become Darth Vader, and that good would triumph over evil in The Return of the Jedi. But The Force Awakens makes clear that although good may triumph over evil, we do not know at what cost that victory may occur, and that when one threat is ended, another may take its place. In short: episodes 7, 8, and 9 will feel like watching Star Wars for the first time.
The sense of the new and the reoccurring is interwoven throughout the film. The most notable, and perhaps most memorable, example is the film’s score. The Star Wars theme music is instantly recognisable to most of us, whether we know the films or not. The film is the same as the score. We instantly recognise it to be Star Wars, but the closer we listen, the more we realise that there are new intricacies, new melodies, next to what we already know. Next to some of the finest computer-generated imagery in the business, we see the same unique and ingenious costuming and puppetry that made Star Wars a success in 1977. In fact, at no point in the film did I feel that I was watching a blockbuster sci-fi action film made in 2015, in which we would expect more explosions, more CGI armies, and a younger, less diverse cast. In The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams and his crew have brought together a finely crafted work of “classic” Star Wars with a 2015 twist.
Tonight, I sat with my father on one side, who stood in line for hours in 1977 to be one of the first to watch A New Hope. And I sat with my 7 year old nephew, who specifically asked for Darth Vader’s lightsaber for Christmas. Three generations of Star Wars fans with one collective response: wow. The beauty, and inevitable success, of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not in its big budget effects, or the famous cast, or the hype surrounding its release, but rather in its familiarity. This is a film that reminds fans of why we loved Star Wars, and it makes us fall in love all over again.
Fans will embrace The Force Awakens as a long lost friend. You will laugh with it. You will cry with it. And when it’s done, you’ll realise how much you’d missed it and didn’t know it.
Star Wars has come home at last.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in U.S. theaters on 18 December.
P.S. Click here if you want spoilery details on Daniel Craig’s awesome cameo in the film.
**And as for that moment…I don’t believe it. Prove it, J.J. Abrams. Prove it.