Fun as it was, The Force Awakens was Star Wars by the book. It replayed the plot of A New Hope, with enough tweaks and loveable new characters to come off as affectionate homage rather than big ol’ rip-off. It was a safe but highly successful reintroduction to the galaxy. The Last Jedi blasts the rule book to pieces, sending the Skywalker saga in unexpected directions. Not all its risks pay off, but its biggest wins outdo anything in the previous film. For fans, there are many, many moments that will leave you cheering or weeping, possibly both at once.
After a feature-length tease, Jedi brings Luke (Mark Hamill) to the fore. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is trying to cajole him into training her in the ways of the force, but Luke is resistant, after his failure with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Hamill slides back into his defining role like he’s never been away: angry, funny and still with traces of the whiny farm-boy. He gets to shine in a way he never did when he was in Han Solo’s shadow. Elsewhere, Leia is leading the dwindling Resistance, which is rapidly being picked off by the First Order. As a goodbye to Leia, director Rian Johnson does the late Carrie Fisher proud. She’s wise, quiet leader and occasional action hero. One of her final scenes is the most emotional in the entire series. It’s not a neat end to the character, or the one deserved, but a respectful farewell.
The one story strand that doesn’t land is that with new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a plucky engineer. Tran is terrific, but she’s stranded in a dreary side-plot with Finn (John Boyega) on a casino planet, which has the stale whiff of the prequels. The flatness of those scenes is not enough to derail an otherwise thrilling instalment. Rian Johnson conjures astonishing space battles, fills his script with genuinely excellent jokes and has deepened the characters significantly (special mention to Adam Driver, who has helped make Kylo Ren the series MVP). With all the surprises here, we’ve honestly no idea how this trilogy will conclude, but the wait to find out is already too long.