SINCE Rian Johnson, the writer/director at the helm of the latest Star Wars instalment doesn’t beat about the bush – his film delivers an immediate "wow" moment with a funny, exciting, visually lavish space battle – it seems only fair to repay in kind.

So, The Last Jedi has better space action, better lightsaber duels, more twists and turns and heart-stopping moments, more humour, more suspense and as much pathos as any of the seven films and one spin-off that have gone before. Whether it’s the best will always be a personal call. But one thing’s sure: the spectacular Episode VIII just keeps on giving.

Some were disappointed when J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise with The Force Awakens, feeling that the film was a safe copy of the very first Star Wars. But Abrams is a canny operator, who perfectly judged a collective need to return to the flesh and blood spirit of the Seventies, joie de vivre adventure mixed with myth and some Freudian frisson. By killing off Harrison Ford’s immensely popular Han Solo, he also paved the way for any degree of darkness.

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Whatever Johnson had planned, Star Wars fans would be approaching The Last Jedi with baited breath verging on apprehension. But the best thing one can say about his script is that spoilers don’t really apply. This derives its impact not so much from shock, as complexity.

After introducing a new generation of heroes and villains, The Force Awakens ended on a cliffhanger, as the gifted Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracked down the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to a remote island. The principle questions at the outset of this film are whether Luke will return to help the rebels battle the evil First Order, and who exactly is the last Jedi?

Johnson takes his time answering those, throwing some neat curve balls along the way. He also engages, and then some, in the particular narrative trait of the Star Wars films – multiple storylines. There’s Luke and Rey’s confrontation on the island; Rey and patricidal bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) developing a telepathic, and worryingly empathetic bond; the First Order’s pursuit of the rag tag rebel fleet, led by Princess Leia (the late Carrie Fisher); Finn (John Boyega) embarking on a secret mission with new pal Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), during which they meet the enigmatic hacker DJ (Benicio Del Toro); and rebel fighter pilot Po Dameron (Oscar Isaac) succumbing to a dangerous lust for heroics.

For a while it feels that Johnson is spreading himself thin, and that The Last Jedi may be one of those franchise chapters that merely set the stage for the next. But then he starts to skilfully dovetail his plot strands – leading towards a crescendo of stunning stand-offs and some quietly profound thematic and character development.

While the film is certainly a little long, the script is dense and constantly surprising, making it virtually impossible to gauge who can be trusted, which side will prevail, and who will survive.

Production design and special effects are top notch (two light sabre duels are as gorgeously staged as they are stirring). And the acting is light years away from the cheerful amateurism of those early films. Hamill is brilliantly sombre, Fisher a study in dignity, Boyega continues to have fun as the comic everyman and Ridley to shine as the reboot’s heart and soul. Driver’s Ren is becoming a far more fascinating figure than his granddad Darth Vader.

And one spoiler for everyone who hated the Ewoks of old: the new cuddly aliens, the penguin-like Porgs, are actually bearable.