**** (out of five)
J.J. Abrams’ homage to the first Star Wars film – the one that took our collective breath away, the one that defined our childhoods – takes “fan service” to new heights, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Charting a very similar course – plot-wise, character-wise, milieu-wise – as the 1977 film (aka A New Hope), it will be very, very familiar to an enormous amount of expectant fans.
Each character from the first film finds a colliery in this new adventure, which feels more like a reboot of the franchise than a continuation of an urgently necessary story. Luke Skywalker is rebooted as Ray (Daisy Ridley), who finds a cute R2-D2-like droid on her desert land, just as Luke did; this droid, known as BB-8, carries a secret message, as R2-D2 did; ultimately this message must be projected, and form a plan of action for a cast of characters including a roguish, darkly handsome, wise-cracking Han Solo-like pilot, Poe (Oscar Isaac). So far, so seen before.
But that’s the point. Every frame of this film is designed to raise goosebumps of nostalgia, and so we not only get the main cast of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill returning (along – yay! – with Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca), we also get the chess set, a rough-and-tumble intergalactic tavern, and the Millenium Falcon – a lot of the Millenium Falcon.
It’s all tremendous fun, and Ridley is a true find. She holds the film together, and, despite not being born when the first film was made, she gets the appropriate acting style down pat, a style that passed from George Lucas to Mark Hamill and froze there in time. She’s perky and bright and strong and wilful and deeply pretty without looking like a movie star. She’s the girl next door, if you live on a desert planet and feel the stirrings of the force.
John Boyega, as a Stormtrooper with a conscience, serves as a substitue Princess Leia to Ridley’s Luke, while Leia herself, despite now being a general, is really given a whole lot of nothing to do. This is not the case with Ford and Mayhew; Han Solo and Chewbacca get a lot of screen time and a lot of jokes (which are all actually funny). Old and curmudgeonly, they’ve become an intergalctic Statdler and Woldorf. Adam Driver is surprisingly believable – given his deep attachement to hipsterism – as a dark-armoured baddie.
It’s the funniest Star Wars film, perhaps, or at least, it has the most jokes (you get the feeling that a lot of the funny stuff in the first film just happened, like when Obi-Wan manipulated a Stormtrooper’s mind – was that really funny on the page?) It looks and feels – remarkably so – like a Star Wars film, and looks and feels most, as I keep saying, like the first one. Because, really, it kind of is the first one, or at least a riff on it, like a really good cover version with the lyrics updated but the melody unchanged.