Note: This review does not contain spoilers, nor significant plot elements beyond that which was included in the trailers.
The Force Awakens’ strongest asset and weakest attribute are the same thing; it is recognisably, and in every sense, Star Wars.
For the first time in 32 years, fans can go to the cinema knowing that they are seeing a movie that captures the hype, imagination and transcendent glory of the original trilogy.
Drawing from the fantastical serials and adventure epics that first inspired George Lucas, director J.J. Abrams had crafted a story that will enthral fans and new converts alike.
The film plays heavily on nostalgia for the early epics and characters, many of whom – aside from the highly publicised return of Han Solo and Leia Organa (Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher) – make more-than-welcome appearances.
Plundering our fondness for the past but not relying on it throughout, Abrams has made the clever decision to deploy a new generation of heroes front and centre, heralded by relative newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, in addition to the more established Oscar Isaac.
With intelligent casting, a competent script and an investment in visual effects as opposed to CGI, Abrams has demonstrated just how much of a difference these elements can make to a film, as it did for the original trilogy, and adversely, the prequels.
The three young stars are instantly empathetic and powerful, with a strong and heartwarming dynamic between Finn (Boyega) and Poe (Isaac), unfortunately underexplored over the 135-minute running time.
Ridley as scavenger Rey is the star of The Force Awakens, undergoing a character arc greater than any other in this film which is handled admiringly.
Placing such a well-drawn female character at the forefront has distinguished The Force Awakens not only from its thematic predecessors but the Star Wars anthology itself and is one of the most welcome innovations in Episode VII.
Adam Driver turns in a masterful performance as Kylo Ren, a villain not so frightening yet just as interesting as Darth Vader, but the less said on that the better.
Domhnall Gleeson is a short-lived standout, portraying one of the more fascinating new entries into the universe, while the presence of Gwendoline Christie’s (Game of Thrones) Captain Phasma, albeit compelling, is too brief to have any real impact.
For the fans
Most enjoyable for fans of the original series is the return to the simple style of storytelling that first made Star Wars so great; show, don’t tell.
Establishing and long-hold shots tell more about the galaxy post-Return of the Jedi than lengthy, expository dialogue ever could.
One speechless exchange between two central characters will send chills down the spine of anyone, young and old, who has ever been captivated by Star Wars.
Strong in so many respects, The Force Awakens is nonetheless a more-than-familiar pastiche by Abrams of the plot elements of earlier films that, while thrilling, are not original.
The three main characters are a veritable mix and match of their spiritual predecessors Han, Luke and Leia. The role of the new and charming droid BB-08 and the threat posed to our heroes herald two of the plot elements that will be most overtly recognisable to the devoted.
A hark back to the original themes in a very new setting with new faces, The Force Awakens will more than thrill long-waiting devotees without packing the same punch by very virtue of its reliance on familiar features.
For the non-fans
To the uninitiated, The Force Awakens is perhaps most compelling, skilfully introducing a new generation of filmgoers to an exhilarating, animated universe with more than enough enticement to invest in the plethora that came before.
For the modern legions of Star War fans who grew up devoted to the franchise but did not have the pleasure of seeing Star Wars upon its original release, this is very much their film.
The Force Awakens is packaged, readily familiar Star Wars for a new generation of followers who can now look forward to several new iterations and spin-offs over the coming decade.
Thanks to its ingenuity and clear loyalty to both the saga and fan-base, this modern take has now earned the creative license to stray from the original formula and further develop the universe and characters that – for the first time in a very long time – are finally in good hands.