The most anticipated movie of the year is finally here. So, does Star Wars: The Force Awakens triumph or disappoint? From my point of view I can only say director J.J. Abrams has taken George Lucas’ baby and reinvented it for true fans of the early films. Although it would be impossible to overtake the emotional experience of seeing the original 1977 Star Wars for the first time — as I did when it opened at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood — Abrams together with his screenwriters Michael Arndt and especially Lawrence Kasdan (who wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi) have captured the heart, soul, wit, adventure and wonder of what it is that makes Star Wars such a phenomenon in movie history.

pete hammond review badgeAs I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), Abrams has done a brilliant job blending the old with the new. If the series lost its way a bit when its Godfather Lucas was still in command of the ship with The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith in a six-year period at the turn of the century, Abrams, an unabashed fan, has brought back what was great and merged it with compelling and likable new characters who can carry it forward.

There’s an emotional hook here realized with the return particularly of Harrison Ford’s eternal Han Solo, a little older and crankier but no less welcome, and of Carrie Fisher’s no-longer Princess but instead General Leia Organa. In fact, their scenes together have a moving quality that comes not only with their own history but also the audience’s long-term invested relationship in them. It also doesn’t hurt that Solo has brought the great Chewbacca along for the ride again. (Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is a part of the equation in this reboot, but the nature of the role and spoiler elements mean I am not going there.) Ford really seems to be relishing the return of Solo, and he’s a natural in this encore even if  he’s over 70 now (much like Sylvester Stallone in Creed). It is hard to believe we last saw him in the role more than 30 years ago. There’s also R2-D2 and C-3PO in cameos just to add to the fun.

Disney, which bought Lucasfilm and all these properties for $4 billion in 2012, has plans for a new Star Wars every year (the second in the new series just wrapped), so for it to succeed it is imperative that we can identify with the new characters, and this is where Abrams and company have really scored. That’s especially so with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a scrappy young woman who fends for herself as a scavenger on the desert planet Jakku. For Ridley, it is A Star Is Born time if her performance here is any gauge of her potential. It is an immensely appealing character, as well as one that presents a true female hero that really works. Nearly her equal is John Boyega’s Finn, a reformed Stormtrooper trying to pass himself off as part of the Resistance, the good guys in this edition, who are at odds with the First Order aka the Dark Side. The latter include Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the complicated Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) who figures heavily in the plot as it unravels.

Rey and Finn get caught up with Solo in the search for Luke, who has gone missing in the story set about 30 years after the events in Return Of The Jedi. Leia is determined to find him, as is the First Order on the other end. One sequence that was particularly thrilling was the rediscovery of the Millennium Falcon — now virtually in mothballs. Abrams deftly navigates those flying sequences for Rey and Finn that are just one of many highlights in this holiday gift from Disney. Also of note is Oscar Isaac’s daring hotshot X-Wing Fighter pilot Poe Dameron and his droid sidekick BB-8, the sure-to-be-superstar robot that in the movie has a map that could be the key to finding Luke. Domnhall Gleeson turns up in a few scenes as General Hux, leader of the Starkiller Base, while Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is astounding — and unrecognizable — as Maz, a pirate who hangs at a Star Wars bar (another great sequence). The legendary Max von Sydow is also on board for a couple of scenes along with a very large supporting cast.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without the soaring music of John Williams, and his sweeping score is, as usual, a standout star of the movie.

Just as he did in Star Trek, Abrams, who also produced with Kathleen Kennedy and Bryan Burk, has given the next generation of the Star Wars saga the kind of send-off we could only hope for. Disney opens the film Friday at a multiplex not far far away from anyone on the planet.

Do you plan to see Star Wars: The Force AwakensLet us know what you think.