Movie franchises are ten-a-penny nowadays, but few come with more expectations and built in hype than Star Wars. The seventh chapter, The Force Awakens, goes some way to correcting the horrors of episodes 1 2 and 3, and introduces some new exciting and original new characters alongside familiar faces, and some even more familiar plot points.
Set some time after the events of Episode six (Return of the Jedi) that saw the Rebellion defeat the Empire and Darth Vader, a new threat has arisen in the shape of the mysterious First Order, who seem set on the same sort of Galactic conquest. The Rebellion’s legendary hero Luke Skywalker has long since vanished, but a young scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a droid may hold the key to his whereabouts. Pursued by the evil Kylo Ren, she teams up with Finn, a First Order Stormtrooper who is having second thoughts, and a couple of smugglers.
Ultimately the film plays it safe, giving the fans what they want, in the shape of gun fights, lightsaber fights, battles in outer space, a rousing John Williams score, a bad guy in a mask, and some snappy dialogue courtesy of Lawrence Kasdan. It also suffers the problem that any sequel suffers to some extent, in that being one part of a bigger story may limit how satisfying it can be as a standalone film.
The most successful and memorable parts for me are the new elements and characters. Rey follows the Luke Skywalker model of a lowly youngster who has to grow up and learn some new skills pretty quickly, although she is distinct enough to not feel overly familiar. The real breakthrough character for me is Finn, as I liked the idea of subverting the trope of Stormtroopers being faceless mindless clones, and having one seems to suffer some sort of shellshock that makes him question his role in life.
Having said that, the familiar elements are there for a reason, and are integrated into a pacey and well thought out story, so the film can appeal equally both to fans, and people who just like exciting action packed films.