As I was leaving the press screening of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I overheard a loudmouthed fellow critic, probably in his late 20’s, say, “What garbage! All they did was remake ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’”

What I think he meant to say was, “This is one of the best, most exciting, well written, finely acted, terrifically directed ‘Star Wars’ movies since ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’”

Put into the hands of the inventive writer-director Rian Johnson, who cut his science fiction teeth on “Looper,” the series takes a big step forward with this entry, aka “Chapter VIII,” picking up moments after the conclusion of 2015’s “The Force Awakens,” with spirited Resistance member Rey (Daisy Ridley) finding the long-missing and hermit-like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the self-proclaimed last Jedi, on his island hideaway, and presenting him with his legendary lightsaber.

But Luke, obviously having read the scroll at the start of the film, and realizing how much peril The Force’s Dark Side has hanging over the heads of the shrinking numbers of its Light Side, and how hopeless it all is, doesn’t want anything to do with his weapon or with Rey or with The Force or the Jedi or, it appears, with life. “Go away!” he exclaims.

No, that’s not going to happen. Rey has been sent to find Luke by his sister, Leia (Carrie Fisher), now the general in charge of the Resistance, hoping he will help them get away from the clutches of The First Order. This evil alliance, lorded over by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has total domination of everything in its path on its mind, and the obliteration of the Resistance is next on its to-do list.

Johnson’s script immediately starts offering up plot situations and accompanying questions: Will Rey talk some sense into Luke, and get him to teach her about The Force, to boot? Will the dwindling Resistance escape the clutches of the marauding First Order, as its ships chase them, at light speed, through time and space? Will the powerful, demented, and disappointed Snoke get his flunky, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), to step up to the plate and into the shoes of Darth Vader? Will the reckless upstart and hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) convince his superiors Leia, and later Vice-Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), that they must never give up, never surrender? (Watch out, now I’m quoting from “Galaxy Quest!”)

There’s not much more a “Star Wars” fan needs to know, but I’ll add this: There are cameos by Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, the Millennium Falcon, and Yoda (after all these years, I still don’t know what he’s talking about). BB-8, that other droid, introduced in “The Force Awakens,” turns out to be a violent little bugger. In an unlikely pairing, former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), who defected to the Light Side, teams up with a new character, ship engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to search for a “master codebreaker” to help save the Resistance. He turns out to be DJ (Benicio Del Toro), a slippery fellow who sees no difference between good guys and bad guys as long as there’s a payday for him.

More humor than usual for a “Star Wars” movie makes its way into the script, some of it via words — involving Leia’s hair and the strict line delivery of the blowhard Genera Hux (nicely overplayed by Domhnall Gleeson) — and some with a bit of good old slapstick. And as usual, there’s too much going on and too many characters to keep track of. But Johnson’s script is nicely honed to the point where all is sufficiently explained. Besides, when philosophical discussions comparing the Light Side to the Dark Side start to get in the way, it’s time for big explosions and wild action. By the end of the movie, fans, if they’re not already, will be totally primed for the final installment of the nine-film series, scheduled for release on Dec. 20, 2019.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
With Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Benicio Del Toro
Rated PG-13