Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a heart-pounding, risk-taking, intense thriller that is satisfying from start to finish.

The eighth episode of the gigantic franchise pushes boundaries in a way that the series hasn't in decades. And this isn't just the result of improving CGI: The changes concern the storytelling and universe, rather than just the special effects (which do deserve top marks).

Rian Johnson's Star Wars entrance is the most original since The Empire Strikes Back. Thanks to Johnson, The Last Jedi has its own voice, while still fitting perfectly in the series.

Johnson's movie answers any questions about — and objections to — The Force Awakens. While the seventh movie in many ways mimicked the very first Star Wars film, The Last Jedi completely sets itself apart from the past episodes despite having elements from many of them.

As with any movie that takes chances, there's a certain level of trust required to reach the end. The Last Jedi and Johnson deserve to be trusted and followed through the journey. There are certainly head-scratching moments, but ultimately, the story ends with far more answers than questions. And at the film's conclusion, remaining questions feel poised to be satisfied in the trilogy's finale.

The film juggles an enormous cast expertly, with no character playing a part too big or too small. Everyone fits together exactly right, and each story adds something new and original to the film.

Mark Hamill brings a fire to the return of Luke Skywalker that fuels The Last Jedi. His performance more than makes up for his near-complete absence in Force Awakens, and his portrayal of someone considered a living legend is equal parts light, dark, emotional, balanced and complex.

The pervasive themes of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity are manifested in The Last Jedi even better than in last year's Rogue One. The story of the Resistance is perhaps the most original and inspiring account of any Rebellion. It's suspenseful and will keep you on the edge of your seat from the very first scene.

One of the biggest elements of the film to receive buzz before its release was the Porgs. The bird-like creatures fit the story perfectly, and they're used the exact right amount. They're hilarious and adorable, adding a light, family-friendly touch to the film.

The Last Jedi also has the longest run time of any Star Wars film, but every moment is earned. No scene feels like filler, and no plot element feels undeserved or out of place. In fact, the two hours and 32 minutes are hardly noticeable due to the exhilarating action.

The Last Jedi is a must-see for Star Wars fans and general moviegoers alike. The intense excitement at the culmination of the movie ultimately sets the series up for a climactic finale and will leave viewers begging for more, unprepared to wait for the ninth film.

4/4 shells