Simon Dillon reviews the very entertaining continuation of the Star Wars franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

"This isn't going to go the way you think." Luke Skywalker's words, deftly deployed by the Lucasfilm marketing department, are a fairly good summary of how things turn out in The Last Jedi. Is that a good or bad thing? Well, the big narrative reveals in The Last Jedi may prove divisive. Personally, based on one viewing, I think it is a very good thing.

Nothing could ever top the original Star Wars trilogy, but for me The Last Jedi represents a definite progression and arguable improvement on The Force Awakens. I am very wary of potential spoilers, so will avoid discussing the plot in any depth in this review, but certainly the usual themes present in Star Wars - good versus evil, the temptation of the dark side, and so on - are expanded on in new and interesting ways. Writer/director Rian Johnson - best known for films like Brick and Looper - has managed to smuggle some of his own concerns and style into a franchise that actively resists individual interpretation away from the template set by original creator George Lucas. I also spotted clever references to everything from To Catch a Thief to Twelve O'clock High and even the terrific Battlestar Galactica episode 33.

Neatly picking up where the previous film left off, amid the deluge of space battles, bizarre alien creatures and duels, there are fascinating character arcs and a couple of genuinely surprising twists and turns. Some of these have real dramatic weight. Performances are mostly strong, with the heroic trio of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac returning to their roles as Jedi-in-waiting Rey, former Stormtrooper Finn and ace pilot Poe Dameron. Other returning characters include the late Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO.

New characters include the excellent Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico, an engineer who gets involved in a casino planet/heist subplot with Finn. Benicio Del Toro also pops up in said subplot as a shady character called "DJ". On the dark side, Andy Serkis, Adam Driver and Dohmnall Gleeson are back for villain duties as Supreme Leader Snoke, Kylo Ren and General Hux respectively, to very satisfying effect.

But it is Mark Hamill who most impressed me. I found his turn as the embittered, broken Luke Skywalker very moving. The original trilogy was about growing up, but this film is about growing old. The Skywalker strand of the plot is melancholy and elegiac, dealing with hubris, disillusionment, bitterness and regret. To be really glib, one could say The Last Jedi is a very expensive way of saying "Let it go."

Elsewhere the film touches on arms dealing, slavery and even animal welfare, though not in a heavy way. This is Star Wars after all, and The Last Jedi is also packed with action and humour. In fact, this might be the funniest episode to date. It also goes without saying that the visual effects, sound effects and art direction are out of this world. Much of the alien planet imagery is stylish, striking and beautiful, and of course the great John Williams returns to build on his legendary music score.

There are flaws. The afore-mentioned casino planet/heist subplot involving Finn and Rose is a little confused and doesn't really advance the story, even though it is rather enjoyable. Laura Dern's character Vice Admiral Holdo is underwritten, and it could be argued the film is a bit too long. Yet for all this, I can't say what I would have cut. Besides, the final act is so compelling, satisfying and emotional that one is inclined to overlook such imperfections.

All things considered, The Last Jedi is very entertaining continuation of the Star Wars franchise that takes the story in a bold new direction. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.