Just take a look at that film poster. The dark reds. The grimness of Luke Skywalker's cowled visage. Rey and Kylo Ren's visual balancing act. The dynamism of those Resistance members. And Leia - more poignancy in her expression than we could have imagined a year ago. It adds up to a thrilling montage - even for a recent Star Wars convert like myself - suggesting that one hell of a film was on the way.
Welcome to Star Wars: The Last Jedi - one hell of a film.
Is it perfect? I'm not sure I can say that. Will it please all fans? Of course not - it'll divide them like every Star Wars movie has done, since ewoks showed up in Return of the Jedi. But it's imaginative and brave, funny and stirring, technically assured and emotionally resonant. It's made with love and delivered with finesse - and it's worth your time, even if you wouldn't recognise a wookie should one step on your foot. Sometimes craft simply has to be acknowledged.
2015's The Force Awakens had no easy task - to reboot a beloved franchise with new characters sufficiently engaging to share screen time with the classic crew. The mission entrusted to new Star Wars writer-director Rian Johnson was at once easier and much more complex. Easier in that the franchise was re-established and its new characters neatly introduced. Complex in that he had to take all of those characters somewhere fresh, expand the mythology and set up everything for a concluding episode in two years' time. No pressure, mate. Well for my money (and a proportion of the fan-base would disagree with me vehemently here for reasons I could never address in a spoiler-free review) he succeeded magnificently.
Plotwise I'll go no further than this... The film picks up right where The Force Awakens left off. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is face-to-face with Luke Skywalker, beseeching him for Jedi training. Her opposite number Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is still trying to prove to his superiors that he is worthy of his Grandad Vadar. And the Resistance, having completed their sabotage mission from the previous movie, find themselves outchased and outgunned by the First Order. What follows is action-packed, character-driven and full of the unpredictable. All the familiar elements are there, but they constantly refuse to react how you might expect.
Johnson has given us Star Wars, but not quite as we know it. His screenplay suggests that he's a genuine franchise fan, but one who has the courage to take beloved characters and well-worn themes to challenging new places. The script is also very funny at points, but never at the expense of the poignancy or drama. This isn't Thor: Ragnarok. His action sequences are crisp and dynamic and the storytelling has urgency, aside from one rather baggy-seeming stretch in the middle. (Maybe a second viewing will help me integrate that bit into the broader picture.)
The visuals have genuine beauty throughout. Ireland's Skellig Michael is a craggy backdrop to Luke's hermit existence, while one intense battle plays out on a salt planet that bleeds the colour of blood orange any time a spacecraft scuffs its surface. The space sequences have never been more convincing, or more breathtakingly gorgeous. And the light-sabres fry the air more fiercely than ever, bathing whole scenes in their glow.
As for the performances, those are a joyous combination of old-guard charisma with newbie energy. Kelly Marie Tran as Rose is a feisty addition to the youngsters, while Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) all exhibit greater depth than first time around. And Kylo proves the most fascinating, complex villain in the Star Wars universe. (Andy Serkis scores points for sheer loathsomeness as Snoke, no small feat following his heroic turn as Caesar in War for the Planet of the Apes.)
Then we have the Skywalker siblings. Mark Hamill has never been this good; his turn as Luke is one of the film's greatest achievements. And Carrie Fisher delivers what turned out to be her swansong like one bad-ass General-Princess. She's tough, compassionate, wise - and like a supernova blazed brightest at the end. Pass the hankies.
The Last Jedi is a superb film-making achievement and a ground-breaking addition to the Star Wars canon. With greater moral complexity, gripping character arcs and the type of female empowerment I was looking for in last week's feature, it's a space opera event to be relished. And if it rocks some cherished fan preconceptions, maybe not a bad thing that is.
Gut Reaction: Laughter, adrenaline, a bit of impatience during the mid-section and ultimate awe. Plus several gobsmacking 'What just happened?' moments along the way. Oh, and BB8 is the best droid in the galaxy. Incontrovertible fact.
Ed's Verdict: Rian Johnson cuts his own groove with this movie, and is right to do so. The Last Jedi embraces both sides of the Force, while taking much-needed risks with the franchise. To my mind, Star Wars has never been better.