After locating a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote planet, Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to begin her training as a Jedi. Meanwhile, the First Order - led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) - continue their ruthless attempts to wipe out the last remaining members of General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her band of Resistance fighters. In desperation, Finn (John Boyega) goes on a mission with an unlikely ally (Kelly-Marie Tran) that could save them all...
When the hype eventually died down for 'The Force Awakens', the eventual backlash amounted to it being criticised as being little more than a rehash of 'A New Hope' - complete with final trench-run sequence and planet-shattering explosion. Many placed the blame for this at JJ Abrams, and claimed that the film was by-the-numbers and servicing old and new fans. It was, and it did - but isn't all of 'Star Wars' just that? Servicing people who watched in during its original phase and those who came to it later? If you approach 'The Last Jedi' from that vantage point, you'll probably arrive at the same conclusions a second time.
Narratively, there's a lot going on in 'The Last Jedi' and the pacing throughout the story doesn't necessarily allow for the same kind of flow that 'The Force Awakens' had. Split over three distinctive veins - Rey and Luke on Ahch-To, newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Finn on a mission to track a codebreaker, and fellow newcomer Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and Poe in a running battle with the First Order's fleet - director Rian Johnson does his best to keep the energy pumping and the audience engaged, but there's more than a few sequences that could have either benefitted from a more exacting editor or a more balanced screenplay. Still, one of the complaints of 'The Force Awakens' was that the story brushed over or left too many unanswered questions for people to digest. Here, they're answered in full, but they're done in such a completed manner that you'd wondered why they were even asked in the first place - particularly one concerning a major character. This takes up much of the second act and saddles it with a lot of weight, but by the third comes around, it breaks into a sprint and heads straight towards its stunning conclusion.
What the film gets right, more than anything else, is the sense of scale and spectacle and the tone of optimism in the face of overwhelming odds - and this plays a part in each of the performances. Oscar Isaac's desperately idealistic Dameron bounces off Dern's pragmatic, icy Holdo like rubber and glue. The same goes for Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill as Rey and Luke. Before, we saw Hamill as a wide-eyed farmboy ready to take on the Empire. Here, we see someone far more damaged emotionally and psychologically than you'd expect - for a 'Star Wars' movie, anyway. Hamill's performance smartly acknowledges the aura and legend that surrounds him, but then dismisses it - literally, in one of several surprising comedy beats - as both unwieldy and unnecessary. He's doing something different, and the audience is just going to have get on with it. In a lot of ways, it does what 'The Force Awakens' probably could have done to win over some of its naysayers - acknowledge its past, and then dismiss it as unnecessary. Of course, the damage done by George Lucas' ill-fated trilogy meant that 'The Force Awakens' had to act as a bridge between the two trilogies rather than an entirely new perspective on it.
'The Last Jedi' is at pains to demonstrate how it has pushed back from the starting point and moved in a different direction, especially in terms of visuals. Rian Johnson's direction is much more engaged and willing to experiment than previous entries, most noticeably Abrams' efforts. The flair that he brought to bear on 'Looper' can be seen again here; with one scene pulled straight out of Howard Hughes' 1927 epic 'Wings'. Easily at home with the texture of 'Star Wars', Johnson commands the screen with a deliberateness and the special effects work is some of the best in the entire franchise, all adding to the truly immersive and transportive nature of the film itself. Likewise, John Williams' score blasts over all, with some familiar cues adding to the experience. Steve Yedlin's cinematography makes for some beautiful, sumptuous shots - particularly, it must be said, Skellig Michael / Ahch-To / Star Wars Island.
Overall, apart from some issues with the second act that could be construed as overladen, there is no doubting the intent of Rian Johnson. It's a thrilling and engaging blockbuster that lifts you out of the seat and takes you to a galaxy far, far away.