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The Last Jedi: Star Wars Thrill Ride Takes the Force in an Exciting New Direction

The Last Jedi with Luke Skywalker, Rey, and Kylo Ren

The news is out — "Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" is an impressive addition to the "Star Wars" saga. With a coveted 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the latest installment has wowed critics, and audiences are likely to be even more impressed.

Thrilling, unexpected, and creative, the film delivers constant surprises and fascinating character development. Lightsaber battles, starship maneuvers, and the pervasive presence of the Force give a powerful edge to this space epic, and "The Last Jedi" uses each of these "Star Wars" staples in new ways.

Beneath the eye-popping action, character motivations drive the plot. Audiences will go in expecting compelling backstory for Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Adam Driver), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and Rey (Daisy Ridley) — and they will not be disappointed. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) finally receives the screen time he deserves, in an interesting twist with Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).

A much-deserved tribute to Fisher, who passed away last year, runs in the credits. Princess Leia has an outsize presence in the film, and "The Last Jedi" is better for it. She plays an interesting contrast with her brother Luke.

Where "The Force Awakens" (2015) arguably relied too much on nostalgia for the older generation, "The Last Jedi" gives the Skywalker twins more depth. Episode VIII still uses some tropes from the original trilogy, but the overall approach proves much more fresh and unpredictable than "The Force Awakens," which felt too much like a retelling of "Episode IV: A New Hope" (1977) with a female lead.

"The Last Jedi" shines brightest with a very unexpected relationship teased in the trailers between Kylo Ren and Rey. Their raw hatred for one another proves both entertaining and fascinating, but it doesn't stop there. Both characters grow far beyond the almost stock hero and stock villain from "Force Awakens," and this is perhaps the greatest strength of the new movie.

Somehow, "The Last Jedi" also finds time to develop Finn (John Boyega) and a new character, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Their adventure raises deep questions about the nature of the Resistance and the First Order, and suggests a direction for both in the future. It also introduces themes of wealth and poverty which were mostly absent in the "Star Wars" franchise.

As always, the droids and critters add a much-needed dimension of fun and humor. While the porgs — extremely cute tiny birds featured in the trailer — might get a bit grating, most of the creatures add to the story without becoming a distraction.

"The Last Jedi," far more so than "The Force Awakens," introduced exotic new planets that broadened the "Star Wars" universe. One setting in particular proves both memorable and fascinating.