The eighth instalment of Star Wars was a bit marmite but the Force was still strong in this one

WHEN J.J. Abrams’ hugely-anticipated film Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens hit cinemas in 2015, it was perhaps no surprise viewers came away with a multitude of questions as the credits rolled, obsessed as he is with the concept of mystery.

In a TED Talk, he produced a box he had bought as a child, which remains unopened; to him it represents ‘infinite possibility’…the not knowing is the ‘catalyst for imagination’. And so we arrive at the next instalment wondering why Luke Skywalker went into exile, who were Rey’s parents and please tell us about Supreme Leader Snoke and the creation of the First Order.

 Not only do we have Abrams’ enduring enigmatic tendencies to contend with in his latest role as executive producer, but they have been combined with new writer/director Rian Johnson and his propensity to disregard convention. So all bets were off as I settled in for another pre-Christmas Star Wars ride with The Last Jedi – and the twists and turns are as many as the Falcon takes at times.

The timeless struggle between light and dark is there, good and bad. But grey is so de rigueur these days that even Star Wars is giving it a whirl.

This is a review without spoilers – which is proving tough – you will need to invest in the two and a half hours (longest Star Wars film to date) and discover for yourselves.

Suffice to say, we pick up where we left off – plucky orphan Rey (Daisy Ridley) has tracked a surly and scarred Luke (Mark Hamill, of course) to his island hideaway of Ahch-To (actually Ireland’s newest favourite tourist destination for fanatics, which is not pleasing all the locals) and is now searching for herself and the true meaning of the Force. Spinning off in another direction is Finn (John Boyega), who is joined by ace maintenance engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a jaunt to a kind of intergalactic Monte Carlo to source a code breaker to assist with a little problem. Wrong season, but for an Easter egg (which, let’s face it, will probably be the shops come January), cross reference the detail to the Death Star plans revealed in Rogue One to the technical hitch Finn and Rose need to square. There has clearly been some plot work occurring for some time.

The Resistance is running on scant resources and is in retreat until the lovably-reckless pilot Poe Dameron and the cheeky droid BB-8, who has clearly had a few software upgrades in the interim, have another solution. There is a little more to Poe than him just jumping in an X-wing and blowing something up – although Laura Dern’s lilac-topped Vice Admiral Holdo is not for turning with his charms.

For me, Kylo Ren was the weak link of The Force Awakens. The complexities of where he comes from are explored here…but is he really little more than a boy in a mask? The porgs, a cute space puffin, may put you off your roast turkey. They are just one element that provides the humour (as well as a sway toward vegetarianism). Watch closely for tickly grass, levitating rocks, bad phone signal and even some smart action with some domestic products – a steam iron and a broom. It is a film not afraid of some fun.

There is also more than a slather of nostalgia – with some nods to Han Solo and a wrench at the heart when you learn some of Leia’s lines were drafted by the person who brought her to life – a comment on changing her hair and gallantly letting someone else say the most famous movie line of all time as she has already said it enough.

A fitting epitaph, not that she could have predicted it, for the late, great Carrie Fisher.

Johnson, with quite an incredible responsibility on his shoulders, has it appears been given carte blanche by the old order to take the most epic of movie franchises in whichever direction he please, with Disney now the organ grinder.

And it will be mining Star Wars for all it is worth – look at what is coming next, the Han Solo and Kenobi business.

Part of me says leave my imagination be. You do not have the rights on magic (this is such a pointless exercise as Disney knows full well it has the fanatics over a barrel, even if they are with me on this).

This movie is not as good as The Force Awakens. However, now it is made, with many, many a redeeming feature to its name, the story could end here…

However, we will pick this up again at Christmas 2019 won’t we!

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