The Resistance is preparing for an epic battle with the First Order. Fledgling Jedi knight Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in training with warrior master Luke Skywalker and is ready to join the battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
I am not a “Star Wars” fan. I loved, as does anyone with a pulse, the original with its introduction to a galaxy far, far away and its now-classic characters and creatures. It was a space western adventure in its truest form. After that though, to me, it all became repetitive with more of the same, with increasingly bigger budgets, and it all lost its luster, for me.
The story, like just about all of the long-running feature series, pits the stalwart resistance against the evil empire in one pitched epic battle after another, mostly recreating on a larger, more bombastic scale those thrilling moments first seen in “Episode IX: A New Hope.”
Director-scribe Rian Johnson is best known for his gritty noir film, “Brick (2005),” and sci-fi time travel thriller, “Looper (2012).” He makes the enormous leap to the helm of one of the biggest film franchises ever and the result, while not a thrill form me, will be just that for the legions of “Star Wars” fans around the world.
I would not deem it fit for me to describe the story. I just saw the film and the fans, even if they have not yet attended the highly anticipated event, know the story and all of its many threads much better than I. I will say that it does what it is supposed to and pushes forward all of the characters (and some new ones) debuted in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).”
Rian Johnson’s screenplay follows a similar line as the rival franchise “Star Trek: Beyond (2016).” The story re-introduces us to Ray (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) but, this time, they are on separate missions all toward defeating the evil First Order, allowing these characters to further develop their strong-willed, capable abilities (and personalities). The new entries to the cast make their mark on the film and, of course, our old favorites are back – Luke (Mark Hamill), Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo, replacing the venerable original, Peter Mayhew) all take center stage.
One nitpick that the fans will not care about: some of the big battle pieces often screamed GREEN SCREEN at me, a flaw that I was surprised to see in a mega-budget special effects extravaganza. I give it a B-.
With Rey (Daisy Ridley) having been sent by Leia (Carrie Fisher) to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on Anch-To (Ireland's Skellig Michael), the Resistance finds itself under attack by the First Order in the midst of their evacuation of D'Qar. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) ignores Leia's orders, leading Resistance bombers towards a Dreadnought. Many are lost, including bomber Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo), who heroically drops her load in the face of certain death. The Resistance is dealt another blow when the First Order tracks them through hyperspace and Leia ends up in a coma, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern, having a colorful hair year) taking command with low fuel, few options and a rebellious Poe fighting her every move in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."
If J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise by following the beats of Episode IV, writer/director Rian Johnson ("Brick," "Looper") one ups him by expanding the lore of the Force while emulating the best of the series, "The Empire Strikes Back." Older characters pass the baton to a new, female-centric generation led by the outstanding Daisy Ridley, the new face now a confident actress with great screen charisma. At 151 minutes, the film is overlong and repetition sets in, not just for this film but for the series in general, but fans will be delighted nonetheless. It is concerning, though, that it is Abrams who is picking up the reins for Episode IX.
Johnson takes a three-pronged approach, following Rey's tutelage with the conflicted Skywalker, Poe and Holdo's clashing strategies and Finn's (John Boyega) alliance with maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Paige's sister who will travel with him to the place of her birth, the Casino city on Canto Bight where they hope to find the Master Codebreaker (Justin Theroux) who can disable the security on Supreme Leader Snoke's (Andy Serkis) ship. On Anch-To, Rey ventures to the darkness and begins to telepathically communicate with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the nephew who's made Skywalker doubt all things Jedi. Poe believes Holdo's escape plan is traitorous to the Resistance and Finn and Rose must make do with codebreaker DJ (Benicio Del Toro), a mercenary with unknown allegiances.
Of course it is bittersweet to see Fisher in her unintended last film role, but "The Last Jedi" belongs first and foremost to Ridley, with Oscar Isaac finally coming into his own as a Han Solo surrogate. Hamill goes to dark places, his grizzled Skywalker pulled from despair by the power of Rey's Force and a visit from an old friend. The other cast standout is Domhnall Gleeson whose General Hux appears to be decaying from the inside out as he's dealt one blow after another by a Resistance he continually fails to stamp out. Finnish basketball player Joonas Suotamo takes over the role of Chewbacca from Peter Mayhew (and, frankly, isn't as imposing) while "Pan's" Jimmy Vee is the new R2-D2 (Kenny Baker passed away last year). C-3PO is still played by Anthony Daniels, although the character has little to do here. Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata has a cameo over video monitor and Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd (TV's 'American Horror Story: Cult') returns as Lieutenant Connix.
The film is richly photographed (on 35 mm!) by Steve Yedlin ("Looper"), but there are a few FX wobbles, green screen apparent during a fiery escape of Finn and Rose's. Yoda looks off, a stiff plastic puppet. New creatures include beautiful crystal foxes, racing animals on Canto Bight and Anch-To's Porgs, a cross between rabbits and puffins thrown in for comic relief with Chewbacca (which includes ripping off a "Madagascar" gag). John Williams' familiar score still stirs.
As if Poe, Rey, Finn and Rose weren't new blood enough, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" goes out tipping its hat to an even younger generation, an oppressed young stable boy on Canto Bight given hope by the woman who traveled his path before him. But forty years in, this series needs more than its continual struggle of good versus evil.
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