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With pundits predicting record breaking box office and merchandise sales tipped to run into the billions, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a milestone in movie history. Entertainment editor John Turnbull checked out the film on opening night and gives us his spoiler-free thoughts…

UNLESS YOU have been under media blackout for the last year or so, you’d be aware that a new Star Wars movie has been made.

The Force Awakens is the 7th film in the Star Wars saga, and was directed by J.J. Abrams, who also made Mission Impossible III and the recent Star Trek reboot.

Set 30 years after the events in Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens introduces new heroes and villains, yet remains firmly in the universe that George Lucas created way back in 1977. Fan favourites like Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca return, not just as fan service but as integral parts of the story.

In a move that will probably upset some oppressed white males, the two main heroes are a girl and a black guy, and they’re both absolutely great. John Boyega (Attack the Block) plays Finn, a rogue stormtrooper with a conscience, and Daisy Ridley (The Inbetweeners 2) plays Rey, a scavenger who comes into possession of the BB-8 droid containing information vital to the rebellion. Adding to this dynamic duo is unlikely action hero Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewin Davis) as Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the resistance.

On the dark side we meet Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver (Girls) and Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson (Unbroken) as General Hux, leader of the Imperial forces. Driver brings a level of complexity to Kylo Ren far beyond that of one-note villains like Darth Maul, while Gleeson adds a layer of menace to General Hux, seemingly the only person in the imperial army who isn’t afraid of the dreaded Jedi force choke.

As can be gleaned from the trailers, The Force Awakens is a beautiful film to look at. A director at the top of his game, J.J. Abrams brings an amazing kinetic energy to the battle scenes, even cutting down on the excessive lens flare that has become his trademark. The biggest surprise, however, was the humour. Frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Abrams (along with screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) effortlessly switch between action and character building scenes, making this a joyous movie experience somewhat reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy.

As the in original films, much of the humour comes from the droids, and the soccer-ball like BB-8 is instantly charming and lovable.  Anthony Daniels reprises his role as protocol droid C3-P0, along with Kenny Baker as his beeping companion R2-D2. The interactions between BB-8 and R2-D2 are wonderful and represent a polar shift in tone from the much derided prequels.

Slightly surprising as it may seem, Disney buying Star Wars from George Lucas for $4 billion is the best thing that could have happened. Gone are the racist caricatures and horrible dialogue of The Phantom Menace et al, replaced by complex characters and genuine emotion. From a business sense, Disney has marketed the hell out of this movie, with licencing deals for everything from eyeliner to condoms, and enough toys to make a completest cry. Bloomberg estimates that the film will make around $5 billion from toy sales alone, which makes the $4 billion purchase price seem quite sensible, in retrospect.

There is a definite feeling of "passing the torch" in The Force Awakens, with Finn, Rey and Poe Dameron set on dynamic character arcs that will build across future films. This is not to say that old favourites will fade into the background, with Carrie Fisher’s General Leia owning some of the biggest emotional beats in The Force Awakens. It is also worth mentioning Harrison Ford’s performance, as he puts more life into Han Solo than any character he has played in the last 15 years. He doesn’t even mumble!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an amazing film. Incrementally better than any of the prequels, this may well be the best movie in the series, although it may take repeat viewings to see if it’s up to Empire Strikes Back standards. Fortunately, I’m going to see it again next week…

The Verdict:  9/10 – probably the most entertaining movie I’ve seen this year

Like what you read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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