Luke Skywalker, the son of Anakin Skywalker who was seduced to the dark side, became known as Darth Vader, and died at the end of Return of the Jedi, is now in exile. His apprentice has turned to the dark side of the Force as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and is trying to resurrect the menace of Darth Vader.
The Resistance is trying to build an offensive against the all-powerful, evil First Order, the successor to the Empire, headed by Supreme Leader Snoke. We are introduced to a host of new characters, among them ace pilot Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) a Stormtrooper with a conscience, droid BB-8 and scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), who, unbeknownst to her, displays an exceptional connection with the Force.
But this galaxy is also dotted with the familiar, making it seem not so far, far away. The aging heroes from the earlier episodes, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), are back along with their trusted sidekicks Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2 and the spaceship, the Millennium Falcon.
Following the format of previous films, there are great space battles, strange underground dens populated by aliens and humanoids, and light sabre battles, some of which have unhappy endings. The advancement in special effects improves the onscreen experience enormously, and John Williams has finely adapted the original theme tune for the reboot. While the intricate web of relationships and connections gets more complex with the arrival of new characters, the insertion of large doses of humour works well for the narrative as it journeys through barren landscapes, lush green planets and intergalactic travel in cavernous spaceships.
It all comes together nicely as the actors breathe vulnerability, fallibility and personality into their roles, with Daisy Ridley being quite the commanding presence. My favourite, hands down, is the cute and rotund droid BB-8.
Among the gripes are that given Rey’s pivotal position, her back story is under-developed and unresolved. Kylo Ren’s corruption is also shakily explained, and it’s possible that some answers will be revealed in Star Wars: Episode VIII next year.
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