I am not a big Star Wars fan. While I cannot deny the importance of Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon and its place in cinema history, I do not rave about the various films in the franchise. Aside from The Empire Strikes Back, the originals seem rather ropey and stretched both narratively and thematically, while the prequels are overly complicated and poorly paced. So the most exciting aspect for me as I approached The Force Awakens was that it is a J.J. Abrams film, as I enjoyed all of Abrams’ previous directorial efforts (Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek, Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness). I previously wrote that Star Trek Into Darkness was something of a repackaging of The Wrath of Khan. This was something of a problem for that film, which did not always manage to declare its own identity. Such is not the case with The Force Awakens, which could be fairly described as a reawakening of Star Wars as a whole. The Force Awakens illustrates much that is typical of Abrams – fast-paced storytelling, warm and witty characters, stellar action sequences and fanboy enthusiasm. Crucially, Abrams does not let his (evident) love for the originals overshadow his own story, as he and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt pay sufficient homage to George Lucas’ initial characters and concepts but concentrate on telling their own story in such a way that is both fresh and familiar. New characters rub shoulders with old favourites while beloved sequences and plot developments are reimagined with affection, creativity and, crucially, genuine emotion. Some characters are conflicted while others are regretful, some are motivated by kindness and others by desperation. For the most part, characters are given sufficient detail to enjoy spending time with them, not least because of some genuinely funny verbal and physical jokes. And when it comes to the action, Abrams delivers visceral and arresting sequences, as attack ships hurtle through space and atmosphere, taking the viewer on wild rides both expansive and claustrophobic. Ground battles are similarly gripping and compelling, with the shadow of history and the call of destiny never far away yet never overshadowing events. As a new hope, The Force Awakens strikes back as Star Wars returns with fresh life and vigor for this franchise, Abrams and co delivering one of the finest blockbusters of 2015.