Never mind The Force– I HAVE AWAKENED! The latest installment of STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS has pulled me out of the Doldrums of Prequel (a group of empty islands way off the coast of the Star Wars franchise) and takes us home, back to the tale’s original charm, storytelling, irresistible characters, sense of adventure, humor and excitement, and creates new characters to cherish!

THE FORCE AWAKENS picks up 30 years after Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) but don’t worry if you can’t remember much. Director/co-writer J.J. Abrams (along with Lawrence Kasdan, Michael Arndt and George Lucas himself on the characters!) have done a terrific job of summing up the past, and throwing us right back into the thick of things. I don’t want to spoil ANYTHING by telling you too much. I want you to have the same experience of fresh adventure that I did when I saw it less than 24 hours ago. So here goes.

The tale finds us on the verge of another confrontation between the Resistance and the Dark Side. White-clad Stormtroopers stand ready to swoop down as Max von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka is conveying coveted information under cover of night in a sandy outpost.  A puzzle must be solved. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) must be found in order to awaken The Force. The battle lines start to take shape around new heroes. A dashing Oscar Isaac as hot shot pilot Poe Dameron takes center stage with assistance from an unlikely source, a completely endearing John Boyega as Finn.

Meanwhile a young scrappy scavenger named Rey (utterly charismatic newcomer Daisy Ridley) with a flair for fighting, flying and all things mechanical, is just trying to make ends meet, when she gets swept up and into the fray. An adorable new droid BB-8 immediately claims our affections and we hope like hell nothing happens to this rolling bundle of technological cuteness.

When Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia suddenly show up onscreen– they are even more themselves than before!  Harrison Ford’s Solo is a more disheveled rapscallion; Carrie Fisher’s Leia has more gravitas but her coif has calmed down. Peter Mayhew’s Chewie is slower, but still spry.  The young’uns are appropriately in awe at the mythic figures before them–as are we–and they all end up together on the Millennium Falcon, now an ancient heap but with enough fight left in her to take on whatever the Dark Side hurls its way.

To say much more would be to spoil your fun. Let’s just say that secrets are revealed, romances old and new retain and gather heat, lightsabers are slung, new heroes are born, and ADAM DRIVER as Kylo Ren is brilliantly cast. There are baddies aplenty including Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke, and the ubiquitous Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux (Find him also in this season’s BROOKLYN, THE REVENANT and EX MACHINA.) Keep an ear out for Lupita Nyong’o as Maz.  A shocker of a climax made me gasp…!

I wondered if the franchise was beyond retrieving but the gang is back in perfect form. John Williams’ score fuels the old fire while taking the next generation soaring into the future. The script conjures up that old Star Wars magic but with a modern feisty spin that the boys and especially THE GIRLS will love. The battle scenes had me cheering, the story is layered and leaves enough dark corners to make us wonder what secrets various characters hold, but not so complicated that it takes itself too seriously or pulls us out of the simple pleasures that STAR WARS at its core has always held:

This is a universe where a rag tag bunch of offbeat characters–the good guys, rise to the occasion and join forces to resist the crushing, monolithic, bullying bad guys with enough old fashioned derring do, wit, skill, self-deprecating humor and of course some pretty charming technology to claim the day and remind us what it is to be human. Can’t WAIT FOR EPISODE VIII!

Can’t believe I just said that.