Give the people what they want, but little else.
Director JJ Abrams, who defied the Do Not Resuscitate order on Star Trek and reanimated that wheezing intergalactic saga, atones for George Lucas’ cardinal sin of Episode I: The Phantom Menace with a rollicking and unabashedly old-fashioned battle beyond the stars that should shatter box office records rather than fans’ sky-high dreams.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the sincerest form of flattery of Lucas and his original galaxy far, far away that has inspired religious fervour since the heady summer of 1977.
Episode VII busily reconstitutes elements from the first trilogy as a giddy 135-minute showdown between the light and dark sides of the Force approximately 30 years after the tumultuous events of Return Of The Jedi.
Verbal references and visual nods to earlier chapters abound: the thrum of duelling lightsabres, the beeps of deadpanning droids, the slow and steady countdown to interplanetary doom by hulking superweapon. It’s the greatest hits of Star Wars, lovingly and slickly repackaged with an impressive cast of fresh-faced newcomers and wizened old hands, swish digital effects and John Williams’ grandiose orchestral score.
The gossamer-thin storyline is hand-me-down and some of the plot holes large enough for a four-legged AT-AT combat walker, but rejoice padawan hopefuls, rejoice: the Force is palpable in Episode VII and can only get stronger in subsequent films.
The Rebel Alliance’s hard-fought victory at the Battle of Endor is a fading memory.
The First Order has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire, under the yoke of snarling Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his unpredictable protege, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) spearheads the rebellion, which includes fearless X-wing starfighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
Outrageous misfortune brings together self-doubting heroes and villains, including self-sufficient scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) from the desert planet Jakku, First Order stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a cute rolling BB-8 droid hardwired with killer comic timing.
Their fates conveniently entwine with wisecracking smuggler and scoundrel Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Wookiee sidekick Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), prophetic canteen owner Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o), ruthless First Order base leader General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the mechanised Morecambe and Wiser: C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker).
“The galaxy is counting on us,” growls Han.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens panders shamelessly to the intergalactic faithful, striking a delightfully pleasing balance between adrenaline-pumping thrills, laconic humour and soap opera histrionics.
Ridley and Boyega make a sizeable impact amidst the cacophonous sound and merchandising fury, capturing the vulnerability and anguish of conflicted characters haunted by murky pasts.
Ford has lost none of his bounder’s roughly hewn, twinkly-eyed charm, delivering droll one-liners with consummate ease.
Director Abrams shepherds his handsomely crafted behemoth through every comfortingly predictable turn with aplomb.
“Chewie... we’re home,” grins Han as he is reunited with the ramshackle Millennium Falcon early in the film.
And so are we.