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Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally hits theaters this weekend, and damn if it wasn’t worth the wait. It’s not a perfect film – no Star Wars movie is – but it’s at least proof that writer/director Rian Johnson is the right guy to helm his own trilogy in the galaxy far, far away.

The Last Jedi shows that Johnson and Lucasfilm aren’t afraid to take chances with this franchise. Where Force Awakens felt safe and familiar, Last Jedi feels bold and unpredictable. The filmmakers knew exactly what fans were expecting and flipped the script on them, making this the most shocking Star Wars episode since Empire Strikes Back. Johnson uses characters in risky ways and explores the Force in new directions, but he never loses sight of the heart and fun inherent in Star Wars. He clearly loves and understands this saga, and if this is the kind of storytelling he brings to his own trilogy, we’re in for a treat.

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As promised and teased for many months, this is a very dark film. As much as Star Wars is a story about hope, there’s a persistent sense of fear and despair throughout this installment. And it’s to the movie’s benefit. It keeps the audience on its toes, like anything could happen to any character at any time. There’s actual weight to what’s happening, which is something many fans and critics felt the previous film lacked.

Admittedly, Last Jedi suffers from pacing issues and a slow second act. The story starts like a jet engine, but once all the characters are off on their respective adventures, things seem to hit a wall and it takes some time to recover. A lot could have been trimmed from this section, and from Finn and Rose’s story in particular, to tell a tighter, more cohesive story. However, once plots begin to merge, the movie really takes off again and delivers one hell of a third act. Which honestly is the same thing that can be said for even the “best” Star Wars films like Empire and Return of the Jedi.

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac all settle into their respective roles, maintaining their charm from Force Awakens but gaining strength and confidence. Mark Hamill has a ton of fun returning to his role as Luke Skywalker, and it shows. This isn’t the same Luke you know from the original trilogy. He’s grizzled and jaded, which brings out a lot of the story’s depth, but Hamill also displays some of his patented panache, making for some of the film’s more memorable and humorous moments. As far as the newcomers go, Benicio del Toro is probably the most fun to watch, but he feels less like a character and more like a plot device. A few characters actually go to waste like this, but it honestly never takes away from the film as a whole.

The Bottom Line

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a total game-changer; take your predictions and throw them out the window. It’s thoughtful, exciting, and surprising enough to outweigh whatever flaws it may have. Fans have been waiting a long time for a Star Wars film that lives up to Empire, and Rian Johnson has finally delivered it.