Star Wars: The Force Awakens12A¦ Blu-ray, DVD
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas created the greatest sci-fi trilogy of all time. After what seemed like the lifespan of a Bantha - maybe even longer - Lucas returned sixteen years later to the saga with a prequel trilogy. He really needn't have bothered. Everything he got right with episodes IV-VI, he got so utterly and woefully wrong with I-III. Although it seemed like an absurd statement, it was clear that Mr Star Wars himself was no longer up to the job.
Like Han Solo, the franchise was frozen in carbonite, until none other than the House of Mouse decided to thaw out the space saga for a cool $4.05bn. What seemed like an outrageous amount at the time now seems like a canny deal made by Disney, who are set to make even more.
Episode VII then, is the first instalment of their very own Star Wars empire.
Darth Vader's galaxy-stomping movement has been succeeded by the equally evil First Order. A few head honcho's have changed, with Supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) now running the show, with the help of his protégé Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), but their mandate is the same - rule everything and everyone.
With the First Order building up such a head of intergalactic steam, the resistance is in pretty poor shape. They have one new hope however (well, another new one), in that they've caught wind of a map that gives the location of a once great Jedi, going by the name of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). A BB-8 droid has hold of said map, and so their best pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac) has been given the task of retrieving both.
Things don't quite go to plan for Poe, as he manages to get himself captured and sent to a Destroyer for interrogation. There he meets disillusioned Stormtrooper FN-2187, who helps him escape.
Back on Jakku, FN-2187 - now going by the name Finn (John Boyega) - soon catches up with BB-8, who is now in the company of scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley). Finn explains the importance of the droid and Rey decides that they must do all they can to get it to the rebellion base. With increased Stormtrooper presence on the planet though, getting past the First Order won't be easy and impossible to do alone.
Help comes by way of a legendary space pirate, his sidekick Wookie and their freighter ship, which apparently did the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs. They have history with taking on bad guys, which might prove handy, but will it be enough to take on Ren and his evil regime?
Whomever it was that was going to be charged with moving this franchise forward, was going to have to be not only talented but brave with it. Enter J.J. Abrams. Despite his critics, there's no doubt Abrams has the right credentials for the job. Not only did he helm 2006's Mission: Impossible III but he helped re-boot the flagging Star Trek franchise. Not only that, he's been pretty vocal about being a fan of the series, and quite frankly his passion shows. And How.
It would have been all too easy to simply re-boot the series (especially seeing as how Abrams already has experience in doing so with an existing franchise), in going back to the beginning of the saga, which has already proven successful, somewhat disappointingly, with so many other established film brands. And let's face it, no one would have blamed him after the utter mess that were episodes I-III. Thankfully, Abrams didn't go down that particularly gold-bricked road.
Episode VII elegantly dovetails into the original trilogy, seamlessly making it a truly organic entry into the Star Wars family. Whereas episodes I-III tried desperately to reinvent the existing folklore - and in doing so, destroy everything that fans held dear about it - Abrams firmly plants his episode into wonderfully familiar surroundings.
It is a world full of the recognisable; from locales that mirror earlier territory (Jakku is a dead ringer for Tattooine, the rebel base resembles the rich forestry of Endor, and the Starkiller base is virtually the Death Star 3.0), characters and droids that have appeared on screen before, to the unforgettable shapes and sounds of X-Wing and TIE fighters flooding the screen. It's difficult not to smile when hearing the familiar squelch of a X-Wing fighter letting loose with its lasers. And when was the last time you heard a cheer in unison from an audience for the appearance of a space vehicle? The Millennium Falcon gets just that.
And then you have the welcome return of iconic characters such as Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher) Luke (Mark Hamill), Chewie (Peter Mayhew), C3-PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) who are all obvious crowd pleasers.
The films true stars however, is its next generation cast, in particular British youngsters Boyega and Ridley. Boyega gives a terrific performance as Finn, full of innocence and humour. Ridley though, carries the emotional crux of the film effortlessly throughout, and doesn't fail to impress. It's these two in particular that will help the transition from old to young, a far easier ride.
Add to that an impressive, wide screen, scrumptious space palette, accompanied by John Williams' anthemic score, and it's safe to say that Star Wars is well and truly back.
If there's one slight niggle to be had, it's the CGI appearance of Andy Serkis as the supreme leader, who sadly looks too much like Golem on steroids, making him more of a character that should have existed in the dreadful prequel trilogy rather than this one.
Episode VII is both honourably respectful to its existing legacy, whilst also boldly pushing the series forward in a gripping and excitingly dramatic direction.
One scene in particular is likely to set fan forums ablaze, but it just goes to show just how brave and serious Abrams is about moving the story on. And in his defence, for that reason alone, he makes the right decision.
This is the Star Wars sequel that fans have so desperately wanted, and thanks to Abrams, we finally have it. It's like episodes I-III never happened, and that alone is worth celebrating.
A franchise not so much re-invented but lovingly rejuvenated. The Force is once again strong with this one.
An instant classic.