Five stars

LISTEN, do you hear it? That’s the collective sigh of relief from millions of Star Wars fans, following three crushingly disappointing prequels and a lot of waiting. The new film is good, in fact great. So great that it might just redefine the franchise.

While you might expect it to be little more than big-budget fan service, thankfully the people involved are shrewd, and most importantly talented enough, to make sure that isn’t the case.

If Mad Max: Fury Road was the sequel we never knew we wanted or knew could be that good, The Force Awakens is the sequel we deserved and is every bit as good as we hoped.

Director J.J. Abrams, the man who successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise, works his magic on this other cherished sci-fi series to deliver a ferociously entertaining film. It’s a heady mix of spacecraft acrobatics, epic lightsabre battles, depth of character and a sense of humour that’s cute without going overboard.

All of this is set to John Williams’s majestic musical score that still knows how to swell to the heroic action and quieten down to the emotional beats like few others.

Replacing the Empire and the Sith as the new force of evil in the galaxy is The First Order, a terrifically foreboding enemy against which the Rebels have to fight, one that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Nazis. It may take place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but as with all the best science fiction, there are many real-world parallels that are drawn upon.

Gone are the prequel days of endless council meetings and treaty signings as a new, satisfyingly straightforward storyline takes over. There are maybe one or two plot contrivances that feel a little too neat for their own good, as well as some ludicrous science going on in order to drive the plot’s threat forward. But let’s face it; if you start questioning scientific logic then you’re not going to get very far with this galaxy.

This also isn’t an exercise in trudging world-building hampered by the need for slavish continuity. A fully realised world already exists, not least thanks to a seamless mix of CGI and old-fashioned practical effects.

Old favourites like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia are back, providing countless moments for squeals of nostalgic fan excitement. But it’s the new blood that really helps the film soar, from John Boyega as the plucky Finn and cinematic newcomer Daisy Ridley as the spirited Rey, to Oscar Isaac as charming pilot Poe Dameron and Adam Driver as the menacing new villain Kylo Ren.

Driver is particularly fantastic, helping make his character quite simply the best villain that the saga has ever produced.

The Force Awakens is clearly made with love and affection for the world first created almost four decades ago – you can feel it in every frame. It’s a film made by talented fans for the fans while never leaving the uninitiated in the dark side.

It’s a joyous sci-fi romp that matches the old and the new damn near perfectly, one where the stakes are as high as can be and just as much care has gone into the details as it has into the escapist spectacle.

It’s a Star Wars film for a new age that never forgets the past, and a triumphant return to form for the saga.