As a film critic it’s my job to tell you why you should or should not see a movie. Some movies are difficult to judge, and I try to steer my writing more to impressions than judgements and let you decide. With the astronomical hype that has been built over the last few months, I thought my job tonight would be absolutely the hardest review I would ever write. I was dead- wrong—in fact it’s probably my easiest. Maybe I am still coming off a cinematic high, the likes I have hardly felt before—but in any case, Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivers on the hype with jaw-dropping moments, gorgeous new worlds, characters we have come to love, new heroes we fall for instantly, and the sheer wonder that the saga once introduced us to all those years ago.

I grew up with Star Wars; I used to have lightsaber fights in my backyard, run around with Stormtrooper blasters, and eagerly anticipate anything related to the series. The minute the crawl started, my eyes immediately grew misty—just seeing those words streak across the screen once again was overwhelmingly powerful, especially when that sentiment was shared by the sold-out auditorium which burst into applause as well.

While following more or less the same plot beats as A New Hope, The Force Awakens still feels fresh, new, maybe even a little better. J.J. Abrams, a fan of the series, knows his audience and does just about everything he can to make brief moments immensely powerful, especially the litany of callbacks. He has crammed it full of bountiful Easter Eggs and little homages to be found, and long-time fans will relish in discovering all of its secrets. While slowing down in a few places, and allowing for some convenient liberties, it never has a boring moment as we are whisked along on the beginning of a much grander adventure that really plays on what we have come to expect from movies nowadays.

Giving the newer characters—Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—most of the spotlight allows them the chance to come into their own without sitting in the shadow of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. The cast works tremendously together (though some are underutilized and forgotten), even when you combine the new and old. Finn and Poe share an admirable, almost bromance-like relationship while Rey takes center stage. Ridley has poised herself to be one of the most talked about names for years to come; she is resilient, resourceful, and all too watchable. She is a bright star, and won’t be going away for some time. Driver’s performance of the villainous Kylo Ren is conflicted, menacing, and memorable. 

The returning cast is measured out slowly across the film. They aren’t all revealed right away, which makes each arrival all the more impactful. Once they are there, we see new sides to them. Their characters are deeper, funnier, more realistic than the mythic heroes we have built them up to be in repeat viewings. It’s good to have them back.

The battle sequences, special effects, and even the score have all received impressive upgrades. While nothing on the scale of the Prequel Trilogy takes place here, there are still some moments that will have your mouth hanging wide open. John Williams’ score, though surprisingly quiet throughout, nonetheless evokes all of the emotions we have come to associate it with. With some new tunes here and there, it still remains that impressive, unforgettable music that haunts your mind for days or weeks after hearing just a little bit of it.

I’ve been waiting for this day for far too long—the day where Star Wars has returned and we can feel safe that it is going in a great new direction. For over two hours tonight, I felt like a kid again in a nostalgia-fueled bliss, and I could go on for quite some time about how great, fun, exciting, and powerful The Force Awakens is, but it’s really something you have to discover for yourself, and that’s because it not only rewards long-time fans of the series, but introduces newcomers to that galaxy far, far away. I think a more appropriate title would have been A New Hope—because it really is just that. Star Wars is back, friends, and I am glad to tell you; it’s here to stay.