The epic space-opera continues, with Han Solo, Princess Leia and a new team of fighters on a quest to find the great Jedi master, Luke Skywalker.

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First review: 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'
Here's Variety's take on the year's most anticipated film.

4
A familiar, fun experience, like spending time with old friends.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, those seeking an untainted viewing experience are advised to avoid reviews, this one included, until after they've seen the movie.)

When George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney in 2012 for US$4 billion, his generational space saga was a spent force both creatively and economically. The Force Awakens is Disney’s effort to reverse that. While the story continues on from the events of Return of the Jedi, it’s best to look at it as a reboot of the franchise; much of the plot, right down to individual scenes, is lifted from the original 1977 Star Wars, while the central characters are largely mix-and-match versions of the first film’s core cast. 

Finn (John Boyega), a Stormtrooper who deserts at the start of the film once he realises what being a Stormtrooper entails, is our average guy; the one with a larger destiny to fulfil is Rey (stand-out Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku who finds droid BB-8 (the basketball-looking one that’s going to make Disney a fortune in toy sales) and decides to help the robot complete his vital mission. Cocky pilot Poe (Oscar Issacs) is the Han Solo analogue but he doesn’t get much to do because before long the real Han Solo (Harrison Ford) turns up and aside from a few extra years he hasn’t changed a bit. Meanwhile, the sinister First Order (basically the Empire 2.0) is after the data BB-8 is carrying, and in another riff on the first film where we had Darth Vader and Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, we again get two bad guys: mask-wearing, lightsabre-wielding, tantrum throwing Force-user Kylo Ren, and enjoyably slimy space-Nazi General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), both following the orders of the sinister Supreme Leader (Andy Serkis).

"If you have the slightest fondness for Star Wars, this is a lot of fun."

 

If you have the slightest fondness for Star Wars, this is a lot of fun: everything you could want is here, from dogfights between TIE Fighters and X-Wings to slimy alien monsters to trash compactor jokes to occasionally clunky dialogue to – especially early on during the Jakku scenes – a real sense of faded grandeur and deep history. Well, almost everything: this film’s big flaw is that in making sure it provides everything we want from Star Wars, it leaves out the surprise that was such a big part of the first film’s appeal. Again, there’s hardly a moment here that doesn’t come from an earlier Star Wars film: there’s a cantina full of dubious space villains (and a band!), an enemy base that contains a seemingly bottomless pit, a weapon that puts entire planets at risk and a scene where X-Wing fighters fly down a trench to shoot at the one tiny spot that can save the day. But in the first film all of that came as surprise after surprise; there’s no moment here with the shock of “that’s not a moon”.

The fun of The Force Awakens comes from visiting an old friend and finding that little has changed; the excitement is that great performances from all four new leads means it’s a strong foundation for whatever comes next.