In a year of many big budget sci-fi disappointments, Star Wars: The Last Jedi returns balance to the force.
It's epic, exhilarating, endlessly entertaining and easily the best of this new wave of Star Wars movies. Writer/director Rian Johnson has made such a freaking good film that the return of hotshot director JJ Abrams to helm the next one that finishes off this new trilogy feels like a bad move and a step backwards.
Unlike the soft reboot of Abrams' 2015's The Force Awakens, which leaned a little too heavily on its source material, or last year's spin-off Rogue One, which failed to have a sense of danger until the last 15 minutes when the crew finally started dropping like flies and Darth Vader showed up, The Last Jedi doesn't repackage old threats or shoehorn in Star Wars fan service at every opportunity.
Instead, it tells a rollicking good, high stakes yarn that plays with expectations, throws surprises at you and keeps you guessing until its more than satisfying conclusion. It runs long yes, but there's so much going on and it's so much fun that you really don't feel that time pass.
After a high octane opening the film quickly branches into three storylines, sending our heroes off on their various life-or-death adventures.
General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is leading the last scraps of the Rebel fleet as they scramble to escape the relentless pursuit of the First Order. The reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is on a ticking clock mission to find an expert code breaker and Rey (Daisy Ridley), the wannabe Jedi, is off trying to convince a grizzled, retired Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to leave his hideaway and rejoin the resistance.
The weakest of these is Finn's. It's briskly paced and full of action yes, but let's just say a casino is no cantina... Worse, it also sees him interacting with Prequel Trilogy levels of CGI critters.
While there are plot ramifications to his mission the main point of his quest seems to be to keep adrenaline levels high between cuts to Rey and Luke's "Will he Jedi? / Won't he Jedi?" conversations and Leia's 'stay out of range' space chase.
Over on the dark side of the force Adam Driver shakes all the emo out of his Sith apprentice Kylo Ren while still retaining an angsty petulance, violent unpredictability and bouts of uncertainty. We also finally get a good look at Andy Serkis as the Dark Lord Snoke. Sadly a lot about the character remains clouded, but with an already hefty running time of 152 minutes perhaps that's for the best...
Pleasingly, however, a decent amount of time is spent delving into Ren's back story, detailing what - and who - drove him to the dark side in the first place.
As the storylines start to merge the big setpieces begin kicking off. Lightsabers are used sparingly, but every time they light up they're devastating, brutal and yes, flat out awesome.
The big space battle is a full throttle, laser lit affair that thankfully stays focused and never degenerates into a confusing mess of brightly coloured, whizz-bang CGI.
And an extended Hoth-esque ground siege, complete with AT-AT's and outgunned yet plucky rebels looks totally amazing and has more than a few fist pumping moments as it blasts its way to its stunning climax and super cool resolution.
The Last Jedi has been favourably compared to The Empire Strikes Back and while there's some truth to that, they're very different films.
Yes, it's dark but it's the moments of light that you'll remember.
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill,
Director: Rian Johnson
Running time: 152mins
Rating: M (Violence)
Verdict: The force is strong with this one.
DID YOU KNOW…
Look closely at how all the characters are positioned on the poster for
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
and you will see the mask of Darth Vader materialise.