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The Force is strong with The Last Jedi
WHEN Star Wars diehards attended the red carpet premiere of The Last Jedi last weekend in Los Angeles, it didn't take long for the Internet to explode with rave reviews the minute the final credits rolled.
The fanboys were full of praise and even compared it to the Holy Grail that is The Empire Strikes Back (1980), and the more extreme ones went as far to call the new film the best movie in the series.
So does episode eight live up to its hype? Let's just say you'd be hard-pressed to dislike it even if you don't follow the long-running George Lucas space opera.
Written and directed by the relatively-unknown Rian Johnson - whose most recognisable works in his skinny filmography would be the Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt time-travel sci-fi thriller Looper (2012) and a handful of episodes of TV's Breaking Bad (2010-2013) - The Last Jedi is as ambitious as a blockbuster can get and delivers plenty of bang for your buck.
Johnson might have been flying under the radar all this time but here, he comes out with guns blazing, delivering eye-popping battle scenes and elegantly-choreographed light sabre duels galore.
As the middle film in a new trilogy produced for Disney by JJ Abrams, The Last Jedi also dispenses with the need for lengthy set-ups and character introductions (that's the job of each episode's opening title) so Johnson wastes no time in throwing the audience into the thick of the action.
From the crawler that opens every episode, we learn the evil First Order is currently winning the battle against the good guys of the Resistance.
General Leia Organa's (the late Carrie Fisher) last hope is to recruit her brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) back to fight the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).
As seen in the cliffhanger ending of the last episode The Force Awakens (2015), that task is assigned to Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has problems convincing the Last Jedi standing back into action. Though initially reluctant, he finally softens his stance and agrees to teach her how to master the Force.
That plot point is the most pivotal in the movie as it will eventually pave the way for the next film.
It is also one of three storylines which Johnson juggles in the film - the other involves ex-stormtrooper-turned-Resistance-hero Finn (John Boyega) teaming up with new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to track down a rogue code-breaker (Benicio Del Toro), and the final one finds hot-headed fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) growing impatient with General Organa's second-in-command Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) as he tries to wrestle control of the Resistance's battle plans from her.
But what's Star Wars without the Dark Side and the baddies themselves put on quite a show here.
In particular, the always-emo Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), with his worsening anger issues, continues to be one of the big screen's most interesting villains: with or without his beetle-black helmet, there is no question this guy has Darth Vader running through his veins.
Both Ren and Rey also find themselves suddenly able to communicate with each other telepathically, and the battle between the Light and the Dark side gets slightly complicated.
But that also gives Johnson the opportunity to throw in a couple of plot twists and saying more would only reveal certain spoilers and ruin the fun.
No disrespect to Rey, Finn and Poe who make up the next generation heroes of this new trilogy, but The Last Jedi's biggest triumph still comes from the old faces delivering the goods when it matters.
Watching Hamill reprising and chewing on his Skywalker role is as satisfying as seeing Harrison Ford slip back into the Han Solo character in The Force Awakens; and Fisher, who completed all her scenes before passing on unexpectedly last December, puts on a tender and poignant swansong performance.
At 152 minutes, The Last Jedi is the longest film in the franchise but the only time its length is exposed is during the flabby middle where Finn and Rose explore an island casino frequented by arms dealers. (Yes, we get the Mos Eisley Cantina reference already!)
But Johnson gets things right by and large and unlike The Force Awakens, which was essentially a loving but slightly lazy reboot/remake of the Lucas original which started it all A New Hope (1977), The Last Jedi re-imagines and reinvigorates the Star Wars universe with the right balance of fan service and surprises.
It's a thrilling and action-packed roller-coaster ride (mostly) from start to end and there is no question the Force is strong with this one.