This is the first time in quite a while where rising to the words of mainstream critics is probably a bad idea – because this is actually the best film in the new Star Wars trilogy despite some vocal naysayers.
Having briefly heard of mixed reviews was actually a good thing, because my expectations were lowered – and I was then left scratching my head as to what the issues were?
Granted, director JJ Abrams (who helmed The Force Awakens) plays it fairly safe – but he had plenty of ‘course correction’ to do after the divisive nature of Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi split the audience.
The thing is – even though The Force Awakens was tagged as being too similar to the original Star Wars – Abrams actually ‘knows’ what the fan base wants, and he delivers it here with plenty of fan service and nods to the previous films.
Does it have the best lightsaber battle ever? Nope. The most memorable ever scenes? Nope. The best finale ever? Nope.
But it does everything it needs to do consistently well to provide a truly competent completion of the nine-film saga that started in 1977.
Is it worth a second viewing? Hell yeah. And that’s more than can be said after coming out of The Last Jedi screening.
After a mysterious broadcast from the supposedly-deceased Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren – who is now the Supreme Leader of the First Order – seeks out the man who threatens his grip on the galaxy, with the powerful Sith Lord unveiling a secret armada of Star Destroyers that will evolve the First Order into the universe-ruling Final Order.
This leads to Rey (Daisy Ridley) – who is continuing her Jedi training under the tutelage of Carrie Fisher’s (brought back seamlessly from previous footage) General Leia Organa – heading on a mission with Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, C3-PO and BB-8 to discover a Sith Wayfinder to help them find the co-ordinates to the Emperor’s location on the fabled planet of Exegol, which will lead the Resistance into the biggest battle they’ve ever had.
Through various locales that pay homage to the wider Star Wars universe – with cameos from the likes of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the ‘force ghost’ of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and even Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in memory form as his son Ben battles with his Kylo Ren guise and potential alliance with Rey – it all packs a lot into the 2 hours 20 minutes run-time. Even Denis Lawson’s legendary pilot Wedge and Warwick Davis’ Ewok Wicket make brief appearances.
And there are laudable performances from the main three younger cast members – Ridley, Boyega and Isaac – with some nicely balanced moments of humour too.
Some may say there’s too much crammed in – despite it chopping from one scene to the next more quickly than Poe can do a hyperspace ‘skip’ in the Millennium Falcon – but Abrams does a pretty good job keeping the ship sailing on course to its satisfying ending.
Which could easily (ahem) provide a few lump-in-throat moments for some.
So while it’s understandable to class Abrams work as quite ‘perfunctory’, from another perspective you could argue he’s just done what the majority of the Star Wars fan base would have wanted – which was rising to the heavy demands of ending the Skywalker saga without too much ‘Rian Johnson-esque’ drama.
And while this has now proved divisive between critics and cinema-goers – in the completely opposite way to The Last Jedi – Abrams still deserves immense credit for using his head to do what was required.
Which was using the ‘force’ to get the job done – and provide arguably pound-for-pound the most accomplished film in this recent trilogy.
In short, go and judge for yourselves – not what you hear.
Because then you should feel the force will be with you… always.
ESP Rating: 4.5/5
Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Ian McDiarmid, Naomi Ackie, Joonas Suotamo, Richard E Grant, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Keri Russell, Lupita Nyong’o, Kelly Marie Tran, Dominic Monaghan, Billie Lourd, Greg Grunberg, Jodie Comer, Billy Howle, Warwick Davis, Denis Lawson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford & The Voices of Andy Serkis, Hayden Christensen, Samuel L Jackson, Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson, Frank Oz, Freddie Prinze Jr, Alec Guinness & James Earl Jones
Running Time: 2 Hrs 22 Mins
Director: JJ Abrams
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