Writing for a now defunct film publication a decade ago, I was given a comprehensive series of briefing notes. One of them was simple. “Our readers think that Star Wars is one of the greatest films ever made.” Any criticism that one made of the franchise, whether the original trilogy or the deeply disappointing prequel films, had to be viewed through the prism of a huge number of excitable aficionados, all but beside themselves at the prospect of another instalment (X) winging its way into the cinema. And so it continues; there seems little doubt that Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be another enormous success, commercially if not artistically. But should someone less partisan care about JJ Abrams’ latest film?

It has the distinction of following Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which took the series in new and unexpected directions. Whether you loved or hated it – and I, never much of an obsessive when it came to this series, had a miserable couple of hours mourning its smug excesses and woke preoccupations – it at least tried to do something different, a comparatively brave move at a time when mass-budget cinema has been as conservative and unadventurous as it has ever been. Such an accusation could not be levelled at Rise of Skywalker, which treads a well-trodden path from start to finish. Yet it’s generally entertaining and thrilling stuff, considerably more so than its predecessors, moving at a fabulously swift pace and building to a proper crescendo of sound and fury.

The storyline doesn’t bear an awful lot of examination. The dastardly Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, whose fabulously rich, sonorous voice is used to splendid effect) has, it transpires from the opening crawl, been alive ever since his apparent demise in Return of the Jedi, and has been manipulating events. Leaving aside whether this is even a logical possibility, it necessitates much soul-searching on the part of Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is increasingly troubled by dark visions and her psychic bond with her fellow Jedi Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is now Supreme Leader of the First Order. (I was saddened that there was no New Order amidst the various villains, offering Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner a chance to look menacing in stormtrooper attire. Alas.) As the usual final reckoning approaches, it falls to heroic fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) to marshal the forces of what remains of the Resistance, against new adversaries including Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E Grant).

Even attempting to come up with a potted summary of the plot is a non-starter, as this barely scrapes the surface of the endless events. Not that it especially matters. The villains are dastardly and one-note, the heroes courageous and one-note, and the only really interesting character, the Byronic Kylo Ren, is played by the excellent Driver with all the conflicted dash and sweep that he deserves. Not that he gets much time for introspection; barely has a scene begun before it’s over, often exploding in a shower of special effects, and buffeted by John Williams’ symphonic score, which adroitly weaves in themes from earlier in the series.

There are space battles, lightsaber duels, exotic creatures and mostly successful moments of comic relief. There are reappearances from many of the best-known characters in the series, including the dead ones, and one particular unexpected turn proves to be the film’s emotional highpoint. Abrams has also managed to resurrect Carrie Fisher, who died before filming, with the adroit aid of a mixture of unused footage. The sneering baddies boast British accents (of course), the square-jawed heroes are properly diverse and some bizarre moments where characters do entirely absurd things to drive the plot along, but it all moves along quickly. There is also so much emphasis on the sins of the fathers (or grandfathers) that it comes, at times, to seem as if the screenwriters kept referring to Larkin’s This Be The Verse. But at least it moves like lightning. There is no Last Jedi-esque tedium here; this is two hours and twenty minutes long, but it never feels its length, rollicking and swashbuckling its way to the derivative but nonetheless effective climax.

It is easy to bemoan the way in which the Disneyfication of cinema has led to an absence of risk-taking and danger. Films of these enormous budgets are viewed less as artistic endeavours than as means of keeping balance sheets healthy. If a picture of this nature makes less than a billion dollars, it would be viewed with trepidation as a flop. But there seems little danger of Rise of Skywalker being anything other than an enormous hit. The cinéaste in me bemoans the waste of talent and a missed opportunity to do something fresh, which, for all its endless faults, The Last Jedi had a crack at. But the ten-year old boy in me enjoyed virtually all of it, and congratulates Abrams and his cast and crew on putting together the most intrepid of space adventures. If this is to be the final Star Wars film in the original, George Lucas-inspired canon, then at least it goes out with giddy aplomb, not so much with a whimper as with an enormous, cheery bang.