New Star Wars delivers
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the film you're looking for, writes Darren Bevan
Hope is a great deal of things to a great deal of people.
But in the Star Wars universe, it is more than just a tangible concept - it exists to rekindle nostalgia or to quash the sad memories of what has previously passed.
And so it is with Star Wars The Last Jedi that the hope rises again in Rian Johnson's thrilling and ostentatious entry into the space opera, now in its 40th year.
After the nostalgia bath of The Force Awakens, there was a lot of hope to deliver with The Last Jedi and it delivers on its promise.
With the First Order rising, the rebellion lies in tatters, forced on the run and bring pursued by Domnhall Gleeson's pale and obsequious General Hux.
With supreme leader Snoke determined to snuff any whiff of rebellion out, it's up to Rey to try and bring the last great Jedi Luke Skywalker back to the fight.
However Luke is determined to have no part in this, believing hope is dangerous and that the Jedi must burn and end.
However Oscar Isaac's rebellious Poe, complete with John Boyega's displaced Stormtrooper come up with a plan to save the fleet and give Rey the time she needs to re-recruit Luke back.
But a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, hope is running out...
To say that Brick director Rian Johnson's Star Wars vision is audacious and as emotionally rich in parts as The Empire Strikes Back is no mean claim (even if the final third of the film feels forcefully tacked on).
By expanding out the universe and still concentrating on the main players, even when he's populating the film with a raft of races and new faces, there's still a focus on what matters.
But it's not all perfect in this overlong entrant into the franchise.
A reliance on humour at the start tonally upends what you'd expect from a film like this - and whilst it's initially welcome, there's a danger that the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok humour is about to overwhelm in a film that does surprise in many ways.
Thankfully, the jokes are put on the back burner quite quickly before they grate, and the cuteness of the new arrivals Porgs is underplayed, confined to a Puss-in-Boots moment, and the film gets into what really matters.
Whereas The Force Awakens wallowed in nostalgia, and meta-nods to the originals, Rian Johnson's view of the universe takes elements of prior films and twists them into new iterations of his own.
There's an otherwordly casino, complete with a bastardised version of the infamous Cantina song; there are hints of Kylo Ren's journey taking elements of Darth Vader's arc, there's the infamous Hitler debate being given life, and most familiar of all, there's Rey being schooled in the ways of the Jedi by a reluctant Luke Skywalker.
It's an impressive world that's been created, even if there is a feeling sometimes that those within it don't exactly have enough to do.
Certainly the film's flabby B-plot suffers and there's a definitive nagging feeling that there's a mid-film slump in parts, but when it comes to spectacle, Johnson more than delivers and gives more for his newcomers to do than simply lip-service.
It still remains to be seen whether the likes of Rey, Poe and Finn will become as iconic as Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie - and the over-reliance on BB-8 as a deus ex machina is troubling, no matter how deliberately crowd-pleasing it is.
But there's much to adore in this Star Wars.
Principally, it comes down to the old school troupe - in Mark Hamill's wearied and burdened turn as Luke; his backstory reveal hints at how hope has gradually started to dwindle in one who was so optimistic and eager. The tragedy's apparent.
And none more so than with Carrie Fisher's final full film turn as General Leia Organa.
Saddled with the real life tragedy of her untimely passing, many of the fallen Princess' scenes feel loaded with more pathos than you'd expect - but there's one scene towards the end that will leave you close to experiencing your own Force choke, thanks to its exquisite beauty.
Credit must also go to Adam Driver this time too - his petulant Ren has a bit more depth in The Last Jedi, feeling less like a child on the verge of a tantrum, but a torn, deflated and defeated soul struggling to cling on to what's left of what makes him him.
Ridley's solid, but still Rey is given to exposition rather than naturally feeling her way along the narrative.
Ultimately, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the film you're looking for.
An examination of the distractions of hate and rage, of bitterness and regret, of hope falling and rising, of the crushing feeling of both defeat and victory, of destiny and of small players making the big difference in the eternal fight - all reasons that the original saga was so loved.
It's infinitely better than its predecessor, and it sparkles with the Star Wars depth, magic and dust, despite some of its occasionally baffling flaws.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro
Director: Rian Johnson
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