Is The Last Jedi the new trilogy’s answer to The Empire Strikes Back?

It is in terms of following a similar structure – the Resistance on the run with the First Order in hot pursuit; Luke (Mark Hamill) as the Yoda to Rey (Daisy Ridley); and a skirmish on a salt flat that’s like the battle on Hoth with pod racing. But it’s less a repeat of a previous episode than The Force Awakens was.

The Last Jedi dives straight into the action with the kind of epic space battle you’d expect to be saved for the climax. But director Rian Johnson is just warming up, cross cutting between Rey and Luke on Ahch-To; Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and The First Order’s onslaught, and an away mission for Finn (John Boyega) and new friend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).        

Johnson lets the players – both old and new – grow and evolve. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) has a problem with authority figures; Kylo Ren wears his internal conflict like a second mask; General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) remains dignified yet weary; and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is even more sinister in the mo-cap flesh than as a giant hologram.

As for Luke, he’s become a reflection of Obi-Wan after losing Ben Solo to the Dark Side, and has decided it’s time for the Jedi to end. He’s also, once again, a new hope (and rebellions are built on hope, remember) in stopping the First Order’s reign by bringing order to chaos through the Force, of which we learn some interesting revelations.

Of the new characters, mechanic Rose gets the most screen time, while Benicio del Toro’s roguish codebreaker and Laura Dern’s violet-haired Resistance admiral seem kind of superfluous. And the Porgs won’t annoy you as much as they do Chewie.     

A subplot involving Finn and Rose’s trip to a galactic casino and the liberation of some alien horses feels like it belongs in a Harry Potter film, and also suspiciously like a Disney directive. It’s the kind of padding associated with middle film syndrome – a treading of water between set-up and finale.

Fortunately, Johnson maintains the breakneck pace, juggling the multiple story arcs without too much slack, raising the emotional stakes, and shooting the numerous dogfights with fluid dynamism.          

The Last Jedi doesn’t answer all the questions raised by The Force Awakens, but the ones it does are guaranteed to surprise. As Luke notes, “This is not going to go the way you think,” and for the most part that’s true, although a scene lifted wholesale from Return of the Jedi goes exactly the way you think.

This is thrilling and grand space opera on an epic scale, just as Star Wars should be.

In cinemas: December 14, 2017star-4
Starring: Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher
Directed by: Rian Johnson