Fears of a bad trilogy have been greatly exaggerated.

The Force Awakens’ good start for me was tempered by the obvious presence of recycled plot mechanics from the original films. But the character foundations and buildup paid off in full for The Last Jedi, in a story steeped with great twists and depth. The voice of this new trilogy is found, forgoing the temptation of predictable and easy story choices to please fans and enrich box office numbers.

Mark Hamill does a better job than he has ever done in the Star Wars series. As a cranky old Jedi, his scenes with the late Carrie Fischer carry extra sentimentality given her absence for the final film. The performances of the other main players, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega are nothing to shrug off either. Perhaps it’s the writing, perhaps it is their increasing comfort in a naturally progressing role, but their development is stark and important in a natural advance from The Force Awakens.

The Last Jedi successfully bucks concerns that The Force Awakens stirred of a trilogy paying excessive homage to the original films. As a middle chapter, the film displays the kind of thematic edge that makes Star Wars great. Playing the past greatness of original heroes and villains in contrast with the rise of the new and bold, the rebellious spirit of the series feels re-ignited and purposeful.  Easily better than The Force Awakens, and arguably second only to Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi is an ambitious sequel in a series with high expectations. Urgent in direction and mined with more twists and payoff than much of its predecessors, that ambition is a wildly entertaining, rewarding venture well worth the watch.

9.2/10 (A-)