There's something about Star Wars. It's the perfect mythology. On its very best form – the form director JJ Abrams has returned this series to with The Force Awakens – it is a science-fiction fantasy world brimming with character and wonder. A setting for fairy tales about the nature of good and evil that allows for laughs, gasps and thrills like no other blockbuster can deliver.
It has been ten years since George Lucas's derided prequel trilogy came to a close, and so 32 years since Star Wars truly left us, following 1983's Return of the Jedi. This new chapter is also set 30 years after those events, in a galaxy ruled by a New Republic but threatened by the remnants of the Empire – who call themselves 'The First Order'.
The truly cynical will call The Force Awakens a glorified remake of 1977's A New Hope, and there would a hint of truth to that. Abrams' film reworks many of the same story notes as Lucas's classic – but never to the point of hollow imitation.
The steady flow of callbacks never grows tiresome, and all the while The Force Awakens manages to forge its own path – most notably through its cast of new characters. There's a depth of character to this film's leads that puts all but a very few blockbusters to shame.
John Boyega's Finn is a runaway Stormtrooper born to fight for the First Order, defined by his noble heroism and seeking a new purpose. Adam Driver, as the film's masked villain Kylo Ren, quickly becomes much more than just a new red lightsaber-swinging bad guy, and Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron is the reckless but talented charmer – a constant in the film but certainly a character audiences will hope to see more of.
As good as the new male leads are however, this is Daisy Ridley's film. She plays Rey, a scavenger on a desolate desert planet who, much like Finn, is looking for purpose. Together they find it, and also the kind of makeshift family they've sought for so long. Ridley, like all the aforementioned new cast members, is fantastic. As affable and charming as the original trilogy's three heroes. All of whom return.
Harrison Ford's Han Solo gets the most screen-time, running and gunning alongside Finn and Rey as the story unfolds. The actor – who is famous for not being Solo's biggest fan and who has seemed half-comatose for many of his recent roles – turns in his best performance in years, winding back the clock and giving audiences the Han they know and love. Remember how Indiana Jones never really felt like Indiana Jones in 2008's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? This is the polar opposite.
Carrie Fisher's General 'Don't Call Me Princess' Leia Organa is serving as leader of the Resistance – who take the fight to The First Order. She, like Han, has returned to what she knows in the absence of Mark Hamill's missing Luke Skywalker – whose role in the film I won't say any more about.
The film's few problems stem from the dark side. Kylo Ren is a great villain, and his master – Andy Serkis's Supreme Leader Snoke – is seen just enough to have his presence felt and leave the door open to learn more about him in future films. The weak link is Domhnall Gleeson, whose pantomime performance as The First Order's General Hux only sits well in the film during one particular stand-out scene.
Then there's Gwendoline Christie's Captain Phasma – a fan-favourite already thanks to the strong design of her character: the chrome-plated leader of the Stormtrooper legions. For two thirds of film Phasma is under-utilised but works well; a badass of few words who fits nicely into the Boba Fett mould. However, in the third act she is disappointingly under-served.
One other complaint seems almost silly. The Force Awakens is funny throughout, but perhaps a little too giddy about being a Star Wars film. The jokes all land, but removing just a handful and maintaining a straighter face at points would certainly have helped build tension and drama. The film is far from lacking in those departments however.
All points converge for a dramatic, emotionally charged finale, and a lightsaber duel up there with the best of the first trilogy. These fights work best as an extension of the story, not over-choreographed showcases for stunt workers. Every swing of a lightsaber here is fuelled by the intent of its wielder, and it's just as gripping as those climactic duels between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker 30 years ago.
Elsewhere during this final act we get to watch the best of cinematographer Dan Mindel's excellent work during dogfights between the Resistance's X-Wings and First Order's TIE Fighters. Abrams' direction is flashy throughout (far more so than any previous Star Wars film) and that's never clearer than in these thrilling sequences.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a triumphant joy from start to finish. JJ Abrams, with writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, has successfully rekindled the world's passion for Star Wars with a film that revels in the glories of the past and superbly sets us up for the future.