So, I got to see The Last Jedi yesterday with only one coughing fit during the time I was in there. Quite a result I thought.
Like many Star Wars fans Empire has long been my favourite because of the depth and grittiness it has but, I have to say, TLJ is well up there.
I'm still letting it all soak in and mulling it over but wanted to get some initial thoughts down.
Be warned: here be spoilers so only read on if you've already seen it!
Apart from the initial teaser trailer I had deliberately avoided the others, reviews and anything else so that I could come in to this as fresh as possible.
Well, what can I say apart from what a ride! The film jumps about from place to place and it is quite high paced but without feeling rushed. In fact, a lot of the scenes near the start of the film are very sedate, especially those between Luke and Rey.
I don't want to cover the whole movie but pick out a few points that particularly stood out.
From the beginning Poe Dameron is a force of nature, an absolute joy to watch. From the jokey call to General Hux to his sheer delight when piloting his X-wing and physically gripping the cockpit when doing a ridiculously tight turn.
The only thing is that TLJ seems to not be his movie. He is featured as a Han Solo type fly boy (note the joke between him and Leia about flying an X-wing and blowing stuff up) but without too much depth. It's almost like he has to learn a lesson in this film and grow up a bit, become more responsible.
I think we're going to see much more from him in Episode IX.
There are two real standout performances in TLJ: Mark Hamill and Adam Driver. Both do "tortured and conflicted" wonderfully but Luke has given up where Kylo Ren is striving for more but feeling incredibly frustrated.
We waited with baited breath to see what was going to happen when Luke takes the lightsaber from Rey so what does he do? Nonchalantly tosses it over his shoulder and walks away.
There are so many little jokes in the film. There has always been humour but never this much and never quite so direct. Some may feel that "it's just not Star Wars" but I think it works.
The film is a typical second act in a three act play where everything is darker and doom-laden so the laughter helps to break it up and adds a contrast to make those darker moments more effective.
Luke tells Rey that the Jedi must be no more because they've never been truly effective, made a mess of it all, and shouldn't be the sole custodians of the force because it is in everyone.
This echoes Kylo Ren's speech to Rey later where he says that the past has to die - the Sith, the Jedi, everything - in order to restore the balance that the force seeks. The difference is Luke just wants to disappear where Ren wants to take over.
This gives the film itself a balance and, more than any other in the series, this episode swings between the two sides equally showing the different points of view so well. I think the longer running time really helps with this and gives it that depth we haven't seen since Empire - with the exception of Rogue One but that probably doesn't really count.
I've read some reviews since watching it and am amazed at the breadth of reaction. Some are calling it the best Star Wars film ever while others say it fails badly. This is the problem with reviews, they are very personal and we take out preconceived ideas of what the film should be when we go in.
I tried to go in with as open mind as possible, I think I achieved that, but came out with the immediate reaction of "well, that was different."
And it is.
It's been said elsewhere that the film really breaks down these preconceptions and that's absolutely right. It completely does away with the predictable and constantly throws curve balls at you which is so refreshing.
There are a number of places in the film where, even if a particular direction is quite obvious, you never see coming the way it actually happens.
One such time is when you just know Kylo Ren isn't going to kill Rey but you just don't expect the way that he instead kills Snoke. You also don't expect his reaction and proposal to Rey to rule things together - very much echoing the "father and son" speech by Vader to Luke.
The whole relationship throughout between Rey and Ren is wonderful with the long distance force link they share (which we later find out was bridged by Snoke) acting as the catalyst to connect the two sides of the film. It's a wonderful construct that leaves us wondering if Rey will succeed in bringing Ren back to the light side.
Snoke's revelation that Ren and Rey are equally strong (on opposing sides of the force) which is why he connected them is another reminder of balance but also stabs at Ren as he knows he's not going to be the most powerful person in the galaxy. This really eats at him and makes him seem like an impetuous child who's just throwing a tantrum.
Well, he is but it's more borne out of that frustration than anything else. He just knows he's never going to be as feared as Vader which Snoke also takes the time to remind him.
One thing I've seen in reviews is that that Laura Dern's character, Vice Admital Holdo - Leia's second in command, is not well written or sufficient fleshed out.
She has a very rewarding exit, she makes the ultimate sacrifice by flying at hyperdrive through Snoke's ship, but the character is criticised for being too vague.
I, however, think this is a great thing.
Oh, and the cut to silence when she does it is so effective.
The conflict between her and Poe over how things should be done, the knowledge that the First Order tracked the resistance ships, and her apparent standoffishness and indecisiveness made her character very ambiguous.
I, and the others with me, came out saying that this ambiguity was a good plot point as it was never certain (until later) whether she was genuine or maybe a spy, perhaps the reason they are able to be tracked until this is explained a bit later.
We as the audience had to learn the lessons of patience and moderation along with Poe so we grow together with the character which is why I think we'll see good things in the next film.
Luke's appearance towards the end of the film is fantastic with the moments between him and Leia especially poignant in the wake of Carrie Fisher's death.
When he first appeared I thought that he'd smartened himself up almost as a symbol of his reawakening but the revelation that this was a force projection makes sense: he is presenting a more palatable image to instil hope.
The subsequent face off with Ren is wonderful.
Luke's "death" or, return to the force, hits just the right tone. Some suspect that Luke will appear as a force ghost in Episode IX but I'm not so sure.
Having shut himself off from the force for years, to finally submit to it so completely, to willingly join with it, seems like the release he so eagerly sought. He has, at last, brought the ultimate balance to his own existence.
It felt very much like a goodbye and I hope it stays that way. I think bringing him back would cheapen it.
Just one final point.
Finn's defection is an obvious plot forwarding device: if any knowledge is required about the First Order then he's your man.
Some criticise the fact that an average stormtrooper, who worked as a lowly janitor, would know where all these vital pieces of technology are.
I just think about where I work. Staff in different departments require access to different parts of the building and certain areas are kept behind Chinese Walls with no cross-over except under exceptional circumstances.
But cleaners? Now they have access to everywhere!