Has there been a film so feverishly anticipated as The Force Awakens - except perhaps The Phantom Menace?

Well, guess what? This one will not let you down.

A decade after the underwhelming prequel trilogy reached its (actually rather good) finale, and nearly four since we first laid eyes on Luke Skywalker et al, the Star Wars galaxy has a new hope.

George Lucas – the man behind the series – has handed his baby over to Disney and director JJ Abrams, who have crafted a proper blockbuster that is big on thrills and will do more than enough to make fans beam with joy.

It delivers in every way that counts: pulsating action, loveable characters, gorgeous vistas and bravura performances.

The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi and the rebellion has faltered with the galaxy reverting to the command of the Empire’s replacement, the First Order.

In the time that has passed, the heroics of Han, Leia and Luke have become legend in the galaxy – which is a canny trick from the writers which allows them to directly call back to the originals with the same sense of fuzzy nostalgia as the audience.

Truthfully, some of it is too familiar.

The broad strokes are a relatively safe mash-up-cum-homage-cum-continuation of the original trilogy, though there are some notable moments that will leave you open mouthed (which we don't want to spoil).

It’s the highly accomplished, crowd pleasing style in which Abrams has done it that is so wonderful.

From the moment John Williams’ peerless score kicks in and that famous text crawls in from the bottom of the screen, the buzz in even the casual Star Wars sympathiser will be palpable.

And it’s a feeling that does not fade throughout.

For the first half at least, fans will likely sit with a wide grin which will only grow bigger at the numerous fond references while the action will leave you almost as wide-eyed as Daisy Ridley’s scavenger Rey.

The remainder of the film is all edge of the seat stuff.

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Newcomer Ridley is a revelation. Blessed with a great character arc, she is full of heroic energy and one of several new faces audiences will get fully behind.

Another is south London actor John Boyega’s everyman Finn.

Immensely likeable and ready on the wisecracks, he forms a satisfying one-two with Harrison Ford’s returning Han Solo, even if his snappy lines do occasionally make you think he’s wandered in from a slightly different movie.

And so to Solo. Of the original trilogy’s returnees, he leaves the biggest mark, easily slipping back into the iconic space cowboy character we all love.

That bit from the trailer with him and Chewbacca that makes you feel all fuzzy inside? There’s more where that came from.

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And for those speculating why Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker did not feature on the posters and in the trailers, we won’t give anything away – but just wait…you will be satisfied.

John Williams’ familiar breathtaking score, some old favourites and a consistent story are not the only things that make this feel definitively like Star Wars.

With stunning effects primarily shot in camera, this instalment has much more in common with the treasured Episodes IV to VI than the CGI-heavy prequels. The planets and creatures are largely new but it is credit to Abrams that they feel part of the same world.

If you didn’t think you could love another droid after R2-D2, wait until you experience BB-8.

The spectre of Darth Vader was always going to haunt any new Star Wars film. He is perhaps the ultimate movie baddie.

Wisely, the Force Awakens accepts this.

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In Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren we have a villain with stunning powers - and an even more stunning light saber - who will scare the kids but also lets the audience in in a way we didn’t begin to get with Vader until The Empire Strikes Back.

Not that he is wholly satisfying. He may be knowingly derivative but there is a slight patheticness about him - you may leave the cinema thinking 'well I could take him'. Partly, that is surely intentional.

After the inevitability of the fate of Anakin in the prequels, it is quite the relief that any outcome seems possible for our characters and that adds to the excitement.

The force is strong for this new trilogy. As a conscious continuation of what came before in terms of story, JJ Abrams has crafted the huge movie fans will have hoped for but also left plenty of room for the next two films to reach out into even more exhilarating uncharted territory.

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Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens (12A) is out Thursday, December 17.

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