Mild spoilers ahead.
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
Written by Rian Johnson
Directed by Rian Johnson
Featuring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendolyn Christie, and Peter Mayhew
Early in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson's unenviable attempt to out-middle-trilogy The Empire Strikes Back, the film picks up immediately following the last frame of J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens, with Rey silently offering Luke Skywalker's old lightsaber to him, the one he lost along with a hand in the final moments of - you guessed it - Empire.
What happens next sets the tone for a film filled with moments that will both surprise and delight fans emotionally attached to the franchise, and brings balance to the … fun - serving the old and new cast in almost perfect harmony.
If judging by the trailers you think Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke (Mark Hamill) in a very dark place, you'd be right - 'old Skywalker' is as shattered and fragile as he appears to be. But the choices Johnson and Hamill make from there lead to a signature tour de force performance, easily Hamill's best of the entire series. Johnson pays homage to the franchise by not by giving Hamill an overly affectionate, nostalgic cameo role. Skywalker's place in the film is a fully-realized, complicated one and in a lot of ways Johnson bravely hands the film over to Hamill, and fans reap the rewards.
Similarly, the late Carrie Fisher is given more to do here than in The Force Awakens. Somewhat ironically, her role here is to hand the baton of Resistance leadership over to Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose place in the trilogy is coming into view. Fisher's larger role is still more sentimental than essential, but Johnson manages to pull a trick out of his bag moviegoers won't see coming that, along with the final moments of Rogue One, fittingly establish Leia/Fisher as the heart of the entire franchise.
Luckily, Luke and Leia are given what's ultimately a final moment together, giving fans that bit of fitting closure.
The film isn't without its imperfections, however. Like Abrams' Awakens it's frustratingly limited to four settings, with a too-clever-by-a-half plot device more Battlestar Galactica than was probably a good idea. Finn (John Boyega), BB-8 and newcomer Rose Tico (the very appealing and welcome newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) side adventure to retrieve a plot McGuffin on a casino planet feels a little out of place and is somewhat reminiscent of the first sequel trilogy. And no, that isn't a good thing.
But what is a good thing is the now fully-emerged dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver). Both roles and both actors are noticeably more mature this time around. Rey is still searching but has a purpose. Kylo is still prone to temper tantrums but has a plan. And Ridley and Driver fully earn their place as the franchise's now centerpieces.
To reveal any more about their actions and interactions would spoil a great deal the fun of the film. So, let's just say May 2019 and Episode IX can't come soon enough.
And oh yeah, the surprising final scene just may provide a clue to Johnson's brand-new future trilogy.
The Last Jedi both hits every mark a Star Wars fan could ask, and surprises them in ways they wouldn't know to ask. Move over The Empire Strikes Back, a new middle-trilogy standard may have been set.
Originally published on Newsarama.