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Well this is a pleasure. Being able to write a review on a Star Wars film that I not only enjoyed, but that was also a good film in its own right.

A great deal of what makes The Force Awakens stand out is due to the new cast. In Rey, Finn and Poe there’s a new trio that’s also immediately likeable, but different enough from Han, Luke and Leia. Many of my preconceptions of what these characters would be like turned out to be completely wrong. Poe is no Han Solo for instance. Yes he wisecracks but that’s about it. After Finn helps him escape, he’s supportive, reassuring and trusting. There’s no cynicism in him. He may be, as Oscar Isaac said “the best goddamn pilot in the galaxy,”, but he’s also a believer in the Resistance and in people.

To go any further without mentioning the incredible Daisy Ridley would be a disservice both to her and to the film. The character of Rey may well be one of my favourites of the whole saga. Whilst it would be easy (and correct) to draw many parallels between her and Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, she’s no clone. There’s no whining here. Instead we find a capable young woman making her way. The moment she embraces her destiny is not only the best part of the film, but one of the best in the series.

There’s also an emotional punch that for the prequels were often a swing and a miss. Adam Driver does a marvellous job as Kylo Ren, showing inner conflict in a far more convincing manner than Hayden Christensen ever managed with Anakin. Yes there’s the temper tantrums when things don’t go his way, but there’s a fear factor that echoes Vader rather than his moping alter ego.

Crucially, there’s an atmosphere to The Force Awakens that distinguishes it from the Prequels. It feels much more like the lived-in universe of the Originals. Much has been made of the use of practical effects in the production and rightly so. There’s an ideal balance between the practical and the digital that makes what your seeing feel both real and fantastical.

None of this is to say the film itself is perfect. As good as the special effects are, certain parts of CGI are a bit off, primarily Andy Serkis’ character, Supreme Leader Snoke. Think Arnold Vosloo in The Mummy before he gets all his bits back and you’re not far wrong. Fingers crossed that gets worked on before the inevitable larger role in Episode VIII.

It’s not just the odd bit of CGI that detract from the film either. As many have pointed out, the film borrows liberally from A New Hope. Viewed from a distance it can at times feel more like a remake than a sequel. I imagine watching the films is order may result in a major case of deja vu. I will say that a second viewing made this far less of a problem for me.

The sequence after Rey and Finn escape Jakku and are picked up by Han and Chewie also feels superfluous. JJ Abrams is a bugger for a monster set piece and I shan’t hold that indulgence against him, but it doesn’t really contribute to the story beyond giving Han and Chewie something to do.

As an overall experience, The Force Awakens is a triumphant return to form. How it compares to the Original Trilogy only time will tell, but on first impressions it probably sits at number 3, just behind Empire and Jedi. It certainly feels like a set up for the rest of the trilogy, far more than A New Hope or The Phantom Menace did for theirs. As a result it feels less self-contained and perhaps can only be truly judged once VIII and IX are out. May 2017 never felt so far away.

4/5