The verdict on Star Wars: The Last Jedi
WARNING: Spoilers, obviously.
IT'S never easy to please a super dedicated fandom and a casual viewer expecting thrills, emotional heft and just pure, unadulterated entertainment.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi and its director Rian Johnson has delivered in spades.
The latest instalment in the space saga had to do a lot of heavy lifting to maintain the momentum of the reinvigorated franchise. It not only had to best the enjoyable The Force Awakens, which did come in for some criticism around repetition, it also had to serve as the final piece of Carrie Fisher's legacy.
Fisher would be proud of Episode VIII, an injection of freshness into a series always only one movie away from staidness - such is the scrutiny of something as loaded as Star Wars.
The Last Jedi launches straight into the action with a propulsive battle scene and it sets the tone for the film - fast-paced, electrifying and well-directed action sequences grounded by sacrifice and loss.
The structure of the movie is taut and cleverly pared back. Unlike The Force Awakens, it doesn't jerk you from one set-piece to the next, leaving you with whiplash. There is pretty much two parallel storylines that converge neatly.
One picks up where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) holding out that lightsabre to Luke (Mark Hamill), imploring him to jump back into the fray while desperate to learn from him about her connection to the Force. If she can unravel the mystery of her heritage along the way, then that would be super.
The second strand has the remainder of the Resistance - Leia (Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), newbie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and BB8 among them - on the run from the superior military strength of Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the fascistic First Order.
The clock is ticking with all the action set within the span of about 24 hours which adds a sense of urgency and jeopardy that serves the pacing well.
It's not a perfect movie. The dialogue is sometimes clunky and often unnecessarily expositional, some of the scenes between Rey and Luke go for a minute too long and you're never sure if characters like the arch General Hux are only there as a figurative punching bag - though Domhnall Gleeson gives very good snivel-face.
Ridley is still a little stagey and rigid and Driver swings from wildly manic to the more subtle, interior performances we've seen from this talented actor in movies like Jim Jarmusch's Paterson. But perhaps the erratic-ness is supposed to point to Kylo Ren's conflicted nature.
Boyega is shaping up nicely as a star in the making and Isaac is a force of nature on the screen, a commanding presence you can't resist while 2017 has confirmed that every movie or TV show is made better with the enchanting Dern.
Of course, fans will reserve the deepest love for Star Wars legends Fisher and Hamill. There is an undeniable jolt of excitement every time either is on screen, even if in Fisher's case it was bittersweet. Just try to contain yourself, we dare you.
Johnson was a bold choice as director and writer, having carved out a career with more esoteric, though excellent, movies such as Brick and Looper. It's clear he is more than able to handle what's necessary to helm a major blockbuster like The Last Jedi.
He's imbued the movie with a sense of adventure and scale while never neglecting to balance the fun with the emotional significance of any moment.
In the film, hope is the watchword. Everyone is either trying to light the spark or snuff it out, and that's the real war being fought. The Last Jedi gives us plenty of hope - hope that this 40-year-old franchise will keep fighting strong and telling the stories of heroes and villains, and hope for a better world. After a bruising year, we could all use more of it.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in cinemas now.
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