Ireland is already enjoying a record-breaking year of first-time tourist visits, but those numbers are about to make the jump to light-speed when the legendary Millennium Falcon lands in County Kerry and County Donegal in the latest 'Star Wars' chapter, 'The Last Jedi.'
Is it good? That's the first question all true fans, and they are legion, will want to know about the latest 'Star Wars' episode 'The Last Jedi.'
I can give you the answer in one word – Yes! Ok, three words – it's fantastically good. In fact, it's without doubt the most thrilling new episode in the long running saga since 1983's 'Return Of The Jedi,' which is a remarkable achievement in itself.
If you were hoping to fall off the evil Empire's radar and find an idyllic place to escape to, rural Ireland would be a fine place to do it. So, of course, the legendary Jedi master fetches up on Skellig Michael (Kerry) and Malin Head (Donegal).
Malin Head is another cinematic stunner in the new film, featuring an utterly unspoiled coastline that is, by turns, striking and serene, alien and yet approachable.
It's no wonder that the north of Ireland has become the go-to location for franchises as different as the 'Star Wars' sci-fi saga and 'Game Of Thrones.'
In the first new installment of the new Jedi series, 'The Force Awakens,' Luke famously didn't say a word when he finally appeared at the climatic moment of the 2015 film. In 'The Last Jedi' he quickly makes up for lost time and we learn far more about him than we ever imagined in the years between the classic original trilogy and the latest go round.
Be warned, not all of it is heroic by any means. As the actor Mark Hamill has said in recent interviews, his character is not in a place that he or the audience might expect to find him.
In fact, some truly tragic developments have altered his whole outlook on the value of The Force and its practitioners, the Jedi, to the point where he is now contemplating whether their long rebellion has had enduring value or purpose.
So this is not the wide-eyed young hero of the original trilogy then. Instead this is someone who has suffered too much loss, experienced too much trauma and seen far too much death. He's grown a long beard, morphed into a carbon copy of his old master Obi-Wan, and he makes it pretty clear he's done with what Obi-Wan use to call "damn fool idealistic crusades."
No previous director has ever explored the sheer scale and diversity of the 'Star Wars' universe with the energy and brio that director Rian Johnson summons in 'The Last Jedi.' But clearly the Irish locations have a very special meaning for the director because most of the film's most important plot developments occur there.
And let me warn you right now – you have no idea what is coming in this new film. The questions that were set up in 'The Force Awakens' are answered here, but there are entirely new plot developments that you didn't even dream of to add to the list.
Audience members gasped at reveal after reveal (relax I won't share them with you here, part of the pleasure of the classic trilogy was that it hit the screens decades before social media was a thing, so I don't want to ruin it for you).
This much I will tell you, though. This is the rebellion's most desperate hour. They are under attack from the relentless First Order (the Empire's new moniker) and they need some of what Luke Skywalker used to sell: a new hope.
Rey, the heroine of the new cycle, has made it her mission to find him and perhaps find out what her own Force sensitivity means in the process, but she's given an unceremonious heave-ho the moment he sets eyes on her.
It's the plot of the original 'Star Wars' in reverse then. This time the cranky old wizard has no interest in helping the young hero take a step into a wider world and so it is left to the young hero to do all the strong-arming to make him share his wisdom.
It works. It works because too long of a struggle can make a stone of the heart, as another famous Irish wizard once remarked. Skywalker is haunted, heart-broken and disillusioned and Hamill makes you feel it. Once again, he's perfectly cast as the heart and soul of this western in space.
As Skywalker argues and philosophizes with himself against a majestic green backdrop you can almost hear the Tourism Ireland office listening to the ka-ching of tourist dollars filling up Irish airports, hotels and scenic spots. And they are not wrong. This is the biggest tourist brochure that Ireland has ever seen and it will be a boon for decades to come. Acht-To looks fantastic on the big screen.
Sadly, this is Carrie Fisher's last go-round as Princess Leia (she died on December 27, 2016) so fans of the character and the films will want to know that this is absolutely her most iconic performance in the role since the original series.
Leia was Force sensitive since 'The Empire Strikes Back' in 1980, and the new film takes that sensitivity to new heights, with thrilling results. Fisher knows the character she created better than anyone and her final outing is a bittersweet but perfect send off.
Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson, 34, plays the sinister General Hux with a chalk on a blackboard British accent that is both a commentary on and send up of the classic stage villain.
With his slicked back hair, his fascist outbursts, and his utter humorlessness he's a sitting duck for the barbed mockery of much more nimble wits like Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaacs) who lampoons him and his ambitions relentlessly in the light hearted manner of old 'Star Wars.'
But don't be fooled. 'The Last Jedi' is the darkest chapter of the sci-fi saga since 'The Empire Strikes Back.' There's a significant body count, there's terrific, almost ruinous damage to the rag tag fleet of starships that make up the rebellion, and there are remarkable space battles that rival anything ever seen in the original series.
We needed to know who Rey is and what her place is in this new struggle and we finally get answers, however unexpected, including game-changing insights into the motivation and history of her most formidable opponent Kylo Ren.
Go and see this extraordinary new chapter of the 'Star Wars' saga to understand why the original series was such a big deal back in the day. 'The Last Jedi' captures some of the original magic in a new bottle and there is no question that Ireland's stunning locations lent some magic of its own to the final experience. Don't miss it.
'The Last Jedi' opens nationwide December 15.