Note: SPOILERS rise and light to meet them. Look, I don’t know. Just, don’t read this unless you’ve seen the movie.
THE LAST JEDI is not the most tightly structured STAR WARS film, nor the most emotionally resonant, but as the complex reaction to its release perhaps suggests, it has quickly become the most interesting. It has, for instance, been deemed in various quarters both as disrespectfully iconoclastic in its treatment of previous STAR WARS characters and lore (including not just the original trilogy, but the groundwork put in place by JJ Abrams and his team in THE FORCE AWAKENS), while simultaneously being dismissed as too bound up in the tropes of the series in general. This apparent contradiction does not necessary prove the film fits into some brilliantly nuanced middle ground, but it is significant that the emergence of such concerns is not an accident; this is all, in fact, territory the film’s themes and characters grapple with directly and deliberately.
Indeed, if there is one superlative the film does deserve, it’s that, more than any other entry in the franchise, THE LAST JEDI attempts to press all of its obligatory blockbuster action and spectacle directly into the service of its character arcs and thematic concerns. No clearer is this than in the set-up and execution of the final battle sequence on the mineral planet Crait. Though obviously evoking the iconic Hoth sequence from THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK with its imagery of secret underground bases, trench warfare, and speeders racing across a dusted landscape towards an implacable armoured foe, the narrative beats nevertheless fall very differently here. The first half of this confrontation builds purposefully to the moment where Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) calls off the attack and former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), disregarding the order, embarks on a suicide run to try to take out the ‘battering-ram laser’ that threatens to expose our heroes’ last redoubt. In one clear beat of action, director and screenwriter Rian Johnson (of BRICK, BROTHERS BLOOM, and LOOPER) demonstrates a precise reversal of these two characters’ behaviour from the beginning of the film, where Poe recklessly embarked on an attack that cost many Resistance lives, and Finn’s first reaction to realising the extent of the danger the fleet was in was to make an escape.
Even here, though, there is some shading to their actions. Finn doesn’t just want to save himself; he wants to prevent Rey (Daisy Ridley) from falling into the same calamity as the rest of the Resistance. Poe isn’t just in it for the glory; he truly believes in the Resistance and will do anything to save it. This is where the film’s (relatively) nuanced approach to heroism lies. Sometimes the heroic thing to do is make a stand. Sometimes it’s to weather the defeat, regroup, and live to fight another day. Intentions are important, but so is context. And context, here, is rendered in stark and simple terms: the effects of your actions on those around you – hence the foregrounding of various members of the Resistance throughout the film who aren’t fortunate enough to be protagonists. This also, of course, is precisely the burden which hangs on the apparently eponymous last Jedi: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).
This version of Luke is, explicitly, not supposed to be the one we want to see. He is a disappointment to Rey and, just as importantly, to himself. He not only failed to prevent his nephew from turning to the Dark Side but, in a moment of weakness, spurred him on towards it – and Hamill brings all the weight of the intervening years since THE RETURN OF THE JEDI to lend substantial pathos and horror to Luke’s regret here. As he must, then, Luke only achieves peace and purpose in ceasing to run away from past mistakes, and instead turning to confront hem. This, naturally, is the foundation for the second half of the final battle sequence: a showdown out of a classic western or samurai flick (genres with a substantial influence on each other and, of course, Lucas’s original STAR WARS) between Luke and his former student, the son of his sister and his best friend. Luke Skywalker is, of course , not the only one to confront the embodiment of his personal history and trauma. Finn, too, is on the run from the past, and finally confronts it in facing down his former superior Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Here Finn explicitly rejects one future – the possibility of becoming an ambivalent, amoral drifter like Benicio del Toro’s DJ – and, rather than simply remaining a First Order deserter, he finally takes ownership of his newfound identity as a rebel, loyal to a cause larger than himself.
Clearly the film’s attitude towards history is neither Luke’s mournful wallowing nor the solipsistic nihilism of its true villain, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rather, the film’s approach to the lore of the series, its place in our culture, and (if this is not too much of a leap) the weight of history in general is articulated in the moment when the spirit of Yoda (Frank Oz) burns down the old shrine, containing the original Jedi texts, with lightning and fire. “Those books held nothing that the girl Rey does not already possess”, Luke’s old master tells him. But this is, indeed, a true return to form for the trickster we met in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (and haven’t properly seen since). Both during her departure from the Luke’s island retreat and at the end of the film we glimpse, briefly, that Rey has already taken the ancient texts and stowed them on the Millennium Falcon. A place of shelter, become a tomb, the shrine has survived past its purpose and must be torn down (the tree that marks the entrance is noticeably desiccated). But this does not mean the knowledge and meaning contained within has no value. Luke’s attitude towards the past has become mired in resignation, preventing him from moving on from his failures, while Kylo Ren’s egotistical desire to supplant those who have gone before him inures him to actually caring for others. Yet for Rey, the actual hero of this story, the past has much to offer and learn from – as soon as she, too, stops letting it define her.
There are still problems. The film’s narrative structure is somewhat distended, particularly in the use of a lengthy chase (which is really more of a running siege) between Resistance and First Order spacecraft as a narrative backbone for a good chunk of the running time. At the same time, though, the editing between the three main plots is clearly and classically composed throughout, judiciously deploying visual and verbal cues to make clear connections between each strand. There remain other fascinating incongruities in the film’s technical and tonal composition. The humour, of course, and the way it to walks a tight-rope between absurd and discomforting to leaven but never undermine the grim stakes of the story. Indeed, at certain key moments the movie indulges in shameless populism in its appeal to its audience, but all the while weaving a (not-exactly-subtle, but still complex) narrative about disappointment and frustration and coming to terms with failure.
THE LAST JEDI is hardly perfect, but it remains an intriguing feat of cinematic storytelling not because of its apparent contradictions but, rather, because of the deliberate attempt to engage with contradiction. Not just a remix of the greatest hits, or a dismissive rejection of what came before, Johnson synthesises the fundamental appeal of the series’ themes and iconography with a new approach to its mythology that foregrounds aspiration and self-actualisation over destiny and bloodlines. Most of all, though, THE LAST JEDI understands that letting go doesn’t mean forgetting. That looking forward and looking back don’t have to exist in opposition. No coincidence is it that, to a greater extent than any other chapter in the series, the film ends on a note of open and endless possibility.
 That would be the ’77 theatrical cut of the original STAR WARS due, legend has it, to the editing efforts of Marcia Lucas.
 It’s EMPIRE. Of course it’s EMPIRE.
 Certainly, the Prequels are fascinating in their own … special way.
 Throughout the film, Johnson is, in fact, paying close attention to what happened in THE FORCE AWAKENS. Here, he notices that Finn’s motivation for fighting the First Order in the previous movie was entirely founded in protecting his first real friend. A fine reason as far as it goes, but throughout THE LAST JEDI, Johnson deliberately pushes these characters in new directions, testing their assumptions and beliefs. Hence making Rey’s hero a cranky old man who refuses to be the legend she wants him to be, or taking Poe’s starfighter and his established role in the Resistance away from him.
 Of course his journey doesn’t end there, as he remains more interested in beating the First Order than protecting either the ideals of and individuals belonging to the Resistance – thus the importance of the intervention of Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and her final line: “That’s how we win. Not by attacking what we hate, but by saving what we love.” Not all the beats in Finn’s story entirely land, but there is a clear thematic consistency that chimes with the rest of the film.
 Andy Serkis’s mo-cap performance as Supreme Leader Snoke is typically capable, but the character is largely important in terms of his role in Kylo Ren’s story, and removing him so that story can grow in a new direction is simultaneously audacious and makes complete sense. His death is also somehow both a satisfying follow-up to, and diminished reflection of, the killing of Han Solo in the previous film. Stoking parricide is a risky move when you’re trying to become grand patriarch of an entire galaxy.
 There’s much more that can be said about Rey’s story, and this silly thing is already too long, but the way the twin disappointments of Luke’s failure and Kylo Ren’s selfishness fuel her realisation that she can be the hero she’s been looking for all along is both sad and inspiring.
 This movie is also, with some frequency, stunningly beautiful aesthetically. Both the visual and audio design offer a range of striking moments, notably in the transition from the vermillion sumptuousness of Kylo Ren and Rey’s battle with Snoke’s Praetorian Guard, backed up by John Williams at his best, to the ethereal monochrome and silence of the hyperspace crash. There is the occasional misjudged effects shot, such as the dramatic use of the Force by Leia (Carrie Fisher) to save herself from a cold death in space, or the first full wide shot of ghostly Yoda, but the stuff that works more than balances out these rare missteps.