Here it is, the much-hyped eighth Star Wars episode. The series is now firmly in the hands of Disney, this being the third film in their much-vaunted rebirth of the franchise. Following on from the climax of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi follows both the Resistance, who are on the run from the First Order, and Rey, who has located Luke Skywalker, potentially the last hope for our heroes. To divulge more of the narrative would be to tangle with the wrath of Star Wars fans everywhere, so I will just say as The Force Awakens was heavily influenced by A New Hope, so The Last Jedi is with Empire Strikes Back.
Director Rian Johnson, who made the very hip neo-noir Brick and the joyfully silly sci-fi Looper, has crafted a film that is both uniquely its own and intrinsically Star Wars. There are space battles, intimate conversations about the Force, cackling villains, optimistic heroes, and lightsabers a-plenty. There is a lot to like here, particularly in the film's final hour, which manages to pack in some surprises amongst the sci-fi action. Visually, thanks to Steve Yedlin's cinematography, The Last Jedi is stunning with some of the individual shots the best the series has ever produced. Early on the film feels stretched, particularly when focusing on the Resistance, but shakes this off when all parties reconvene for a truly thrilling climax.
This film is packed to the brim with characters, too many for it to do justice to them all. Daisy Ridley's Rey and Adam Driver's Kylo Ren are the beating heart of this new trilogy and they are both exceedingly strong here. Even when the energy of the film dips their journeys remain compelling, aided by a fabulous turn from Andy Serkis, whose Supreme Leader Snoke is a rarity in modern blockbusters; a compelling, engaging villain. Domhnall Gleeson is still far too much fun as General Hux, even if he is about ten years too young for the part. John Boyega, as he was in the first of the new films, is an electric screen presence, and is paired with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, who feels a real find, giving a light, funny performance.
But with every successfully used actor there seems to be one that is wasted here. For all his ample charisma there isn't a great deal for Oscar Isaac to do. Laura Dern feels unnecessary, with her most distinctive quality being her purple hair. And to stray near spoilers, both Gwendoline Christie and Lupita Nyong'o (both extraordinarily talented performers) are reduced to cameos here. It is a shortcoming of a film that feels just too busy at times.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will make an excessive amount of money. Its latest love-them-or-hate them creature, the Porgs, will be the toy to have at Christmas. And fans will find enough sustenance to tide them over until the next instalment in this saga. It doesn't quite have that wonderful sense of relief that The Force Awakens had, when you realised the franchise was in safe pair of hands. But it is a comfortably enjoyable epic, a Christmas treat arriving early. The force continues to be strong here.