IT’S difficult to approach a new Star Wars instalment as neutral reviewer when the 80s child who grew to love the original series so intensely is just bursting to get out.
For years, it looked like the final legacy of George Lucas’s brainchild was destined to be the clunking, humourless Episodes I to III of the early 2000s, which appeared to have killed the saga off for good.
Two years ago, JJ Abrams’ joyous Episode VII pulled off the tricky task of paying homage to the originals while reinvigorating the central themes and introducing engaging new characters.
Now it falls to writer-director Rian Johnson, with Abrams alongside him as executive producer, to confront that “difficult second album” and take his audience, through the story of young heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac), somewhere new.
As it turns out, that somewhere is not altogether unfamiliar – Ray’s faltering apprenticeship with the now-reclusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, of course) nods heavily towards Luke’s own stumbling interactions with Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.
And of course all Star Wars films must feature lightsaber showdowns, fascist forces (by now under the auspices of The First Order) carrying out a mass carnage, doughty rebels issuing grand platitudes and characters being defined by acts of heroism, courage, betrayal or cruelty.
The film’s main theme is resistance — would-be jedi Ray’s efforts to resist “the dark side of The Force” and the Resistance’s efforts to shake off the genocidal First Order.
There are appearances from old favourites, delightful moments from new additions, adorable creatures to enjoy, battles to relish, a blistering multi-handed lightsaber melee, plenty of witty lines, spectacular battle scenes and a cheesy romantic echo from last year’s spin-off instalment Rogue One.
Ridley brings a new vulnerability and complexity to Rey and is hard to fault in a role by which the film stands or falls.
Adam Driver is compelling as the conflicted Kylo Ren, the dark side’s great black-clad hope and Isaac’s buccaneering Poe is the perfect homage to the space cowboy spirit of the dear departed Han Solo, while Boyega is great once again as the game everyman Finn, joined in his derring-do this time by effervescent rookie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and shambling codebreaker DJ (Benicio del Toro), both of whom make lasting impressions.
It is hugely poignant to see Carrie Fisher once again in the role which first made millions fall for her, and her final turn as Leia is the film’s heart.
But it is Hamill — playing the grizzles Last Jedi of the title — who steals Ep VIII, acting more than he ever did in episodes IV to VI and filling Luke with a real world-weariness and sadness.
Not everything adds up, but I refuse to let a few plot holes niggle me excessively.
In the departing words of one more succinct reviewer, The Last Jedi is “a good romp”.
It’s a bit more complex than that, but the sentiment remains the same.
On this form, may the Force be with Abrams and co as long as possible.