The Last Jedi opens with one of the funniest bits in any Star Wars film and then mostly keeps that lightness of spirit throughout. That's not unwise for a movie crammed with confrontations and near escapes and betrayals and counter-betrayals and speeches and mechanical minutiae and climaxes and pseudo-climaxes. Writer-director Rian Johnson keeps it from becoming a slog by infusing it with humor, verve and visual charm.
As with quite a few of these movies, The Last Jedi starts in mid-escape and then keeps the pressure on. Huddled in a few spaceships, the Resistance led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher) finds itself on the verge of capture or destruction by the First Order, that Galactic Empire tribute band, again and again. Among the desperate are our returning heroes, hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and recovering ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and new additions Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a Resistance maintenance worker, and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who assumes power at a moment of crisis.
Meanwhile, eager apprentice Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to convince an embittered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to return to the fight and teach her the ways of the Force. Still scarred from his failed attempt to train a new generation of Jedi, Luke is now convinced that the ancient order needs to end.
As The Force Awakens did with Star Wars, The Last Jedi borrows the rough template of The Empire Strikes Back. But Johnson infuses much of The Last Jedi with his own sensibility. He has more visual style: He shoots space battles with a mixture of freewheeling fluidity and hushed grandeur, and lightsaber battles with both hothouse fervor and graphical mischief.