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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) movie poster Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Theatrical Release: December 15, 2017 / Running Time: 152 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Rian Johnson / Writers: Rian Johnson (screenplay); George Lucas (characters)

Cast: Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Andy Serkis (Supreme Leader Snoke), Lupita Nyong'o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Gwendoline Christie (Captain Phasma), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo), Benicio Del Toro (DJ), Frank Oz (voice of Yoda), Justin Theroux (Slicer), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), Jimmy Vee (R2-D2), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Billie Lourd (Lieutenant Connix)

 

In just two years, the prospect of a new Star Wars movie has gone from a landmark event of cultural resurrection and restoration to a seasonal staple. The third film in the franchise in as many Decembers,
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a direct follow-up to 2015's record-setting Episode VII, The Force Awakens. This eighth installment in the canon is significantly bigger, better, and more welcome than last year's spin-off project Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which nonetheless was 2016's box office king.

Last Jedi, which is written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick, The Brothers Bloom), picks up where Awakens left off. It opens with the classic theme music and expository scroll before unleashing a space action sequence we do not quite have full context for.

We soon get to something more interesting, with young female protagonist Rey (Daisy Ridley) having found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in full hermit mode on a remote island. Skywalker, a legend among the Resistance that Rey belongs to, is the only Jedi alive and his days do not seem occupied by much more than drinking milk collected from monster teat. But he isn't looking to pass on his wisdom to an apprentice, even though Rey has the foundation and appetite to be just that.

Reclusive hermit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has his old lightsaber given to him by an eager Rey in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."

Rey believes there is some hope for Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), also known as Ben Solo, to change paths and reject the Dark Side that has estranged him from his family and put him high up in the First Order. She connects via the Force, with our broody principal villain, and makes some progress on redeeming him. In addition, former storm trooper Finn (John Boyega), ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and other members of the Resistance plot on how to keep up with the First Order and their leadership of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

People don't love Star Wars for the plots. It's the thing that's carefully guarded throughout production and which isn't even conveyed clearly in trailers. There is a lot in Last Jedi's narrative to digest, but as usual, the ride is fun whether or not you're following closely or just getting the gist of it.

There is little reason for me to further detail the story, because that is not really what distinguishes this episode. The surprising thing is that Johnson, whose oeuvre to date hasn't been a barrel of laughs, injects more humor into this film than any of its predecessors. It's not quite Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's closer to those in tone than you might think, given the reverence that everyone holds for this universe and making it align with George Lucas' original 1977-83 trilogy.

Finn (John Boyega) gets to do battle with his old supervisor Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).

Johnson doesn't recycle beats or refashion a plot, which is the only significant criticism that was leveled at Abrams' widely beloved predecessor. Johnson isn't slavish to the Star Wars playbook.
Character use modern slang, there are laughs in the thick of tension, and there is even a shot of an ironing machine that parodies the series' signature space ship shots. There isn't the sense that "This is Star Wars" that you felt on Abrams' film and even Lucas' overly maligned first prequel The Phantom Menace. I mean it is Star Wars in the costumes and high production values, but Johnson illustrates that Star Wars does not have to be just what it was to work.

The longest film in the saga to date, this 2-hour sequel juggles many threads and characters without the numbing effect of, say, the overstretched Pirates of the Caribbean sequels or even this year's underwhelming Dunkirk. Thanks to deft editing, a spy spirit, and a game cast, if anything, things feel like they're moving too quickly, not too slowly. The young leads of Force Awakens get to grow without being the main focus (Finn is somewhat relegated to the periphery as one of the film's numerous comic reliefs). After just a one-shot cameo last time, Hamill gets the opportunity to reprise his most famous role as a kind of bitter, more reclusive Ben Kenobi, getting the extensive screentime that Harrison Ford got last time. Carrie Fisher's Leia hangs around longer than you might expect, given that the actress passed away a year ago. The Last Jedi gets a couple of poignant moments from that real life sadness without exploiting it and doesn't give anything to those closely looking for any digital tricks used to complete her performance.

Last Jedi is also notable for introducing lots of critters, from caretakers on Luke's island that look like frogs in nun costumes to crystal snowy fox-like beasts to adorable little furry rodents, one of whom gets a ride on the Millennium Falcon where he upstages Chewbacca.

Despite its substantial runtime, Last Jedi only has small moments not huge opportunities for the likes of Chewie, C-3PO, and even Force Awakens breakout star droid BB-8 to charm us. Though this might qualify as a spoiler to some for the couple of days before this opens, Yoda (CGI, voiced by Frank Oz) makes an appearance that is among the film's biggest highlights. New characters include a long-necked, purple-haired woman played by Laura Dern (whom Poe isn't crazy about) and a stuttering, scene-stealing thief perfectly played by Benicio del Toro.

The Last Jedi probably won't reach the commercial heights of The Force Awakens and it cannot provide the same therapeutic catharsis that film did in resuming a narrative dormant for over thirty years and consciously correcting the issues many had with Lucas' millennial prequels. But Last Jedi is still a joyous adventure that ranks up there with 2017's most cinematic and enjoyable experiences. It won't be recognized with Best Picture nominations, but it is one of the best pictures of the year and of the decade for that matter. It seems inevitable that Disney and Lucasfilm's plan to release either a new Star Wars sequel or spin-off every year will diminish the magic, as illustrated by the apathy I felt towards Rogue One and the fact the word "overkill" sprung to mind at news that Johnson, who has by far bested his previous output here, will be directing another trilogy of Star Wars films after this. For now, though, the magic is still there.

Related Reviews:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson: Looper
2017 Sci-Fi: Blade Runner 2049 Thor: Ragnarok Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 War for the Planet of the Apes
Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars LEGO Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Out
John Boyega: Detroit | Daisy Ridley: Murder on the Orient Express | Adam Driver: Silence Logan Lucky
Benicio del Toro: Sicario

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Reviewed December 12, 2017.



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