With a wait of merely two years, comparatively little next to what Star Wars fans are used to waiting, The Last Jedi (Cert 12a, 2 hours 33 mins) picks up right from where 2015’s The Force Awakens left off.
While JJ Abrams’ instalment garnered plenty of critical acclaim and broke box-office records, many diehards critiqued the series’ long awaited seventh-installment’s adherence to franchise formula.
The same cannot be said here; The Last Jedi manages to be the most unpredictable instalment since the series defining Empire Strikes Back.
Director Rian Johnson’s personal touch cuts through decades of convention and makes for an epic that feels both exhilaratingly fresh and comfortably familiar.
Some of the narrative decisions here may not sit well with Star Wars devotees, but this expansive midpoint in the new trilogy cares little for fan service.
Picking up right after the events of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi sees burgeoning Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) interrupting the legendary Luke Skywalker’s solitary life to learn the ways of the Force.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) of the First Order hunt down the remains of the resistance, following the obliteration of the Republic in the previous film.
On board a fleeing resistance ship, stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega) wakes up to find himself in the midst of the chaos, while Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and new addition Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) attempt to outmanoeuvre the First Order’s ceaseless assault.
Kicking off proceedings with its heroic rebels on the run and a hopeful Jedi in search of enlightenment, many will make quick comparisons to the narrative stylings of The Empire Strikes Back.
Indeed, plenty accused The Force Awakens of sticking too rigidly to the formula of franchise-starter A New Hope (ignoring the series’ fundamental loyalty to mythical storytelling archetypes).
Those early trepidations will be swiftly dashed. The Last Jedi is the most expansive, defiant and forward-thinking instalment yet – building on and injecting the Star Wars mythology with a heady cocktail of fresh ideas.
Stubborn series-obsessives, naturally, will have plenty to complain about, but The Last Jedi does much to move the franchise forward, while remaining faithful to the spirit of its legendary universe.
That’s not to say that all these new directions work. From the word go, The Last Jedi takes a comedic approach that’ll feel jarringly familiar to any of those millions upon millions of moviegoers who’ve attended Disney’s Marvel movies.
There are jokes here – lots of them. While the series has certainly never been some humourless desert of cold, hard space-opera, The Last Jedi’s over-abundance of comedy is often distracting and out of place, going for the comedic jugular when it should aim to excite, thrill and terrify.
In this area, the cutesy “porgs” are the least of the movie’s problems.
Thankfully, Johnson sticks to the darker dramatic route when it really counts.
The Last Jedi is long – the longest Star Wars entry yet – but packed as it is with twists, turns, family drama, enormous action set-pieces and pit stops in characteristically imaginative galactic locales, it never feels laborious or sluggish; the pace perfectly matches the epic narrative.
At the risk of spoiling any surprises, I’ll resist outlining the merits of The Last Jedi’s plot points – be assured, there’s plenty of drama you won’t see coming and tension you’ll barely be able to stand. In some ways, Rian Johnson’s first Star Wars effort is the least “Star Warsy” movie yet – that’s not a bad thing.
The Last Jedi will delight hordes and inevitably disappoint many of the faithful. Naysayers be damned, this is epic, expansive and exhilarating sci-fi drama.