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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ (review by Sharon Knolle)

Produced by Kathleen Kennedy,
Ram Bergman

Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Based on Characters by George Lucas
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver,
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac,
Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson,
Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie,
Kelly Marie Tran,
Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro,

 

From the opening blast of John Williams’ famous theme until the credit dedicating the film to the late and much-missed Carrie Fisher, The Last Jedi grabs you and never lets you go.

It’s nearly everything you could ever want in a Star Wars movie. If there’s anything to fault, it’s that there’s almost too much happening in the film.

As someone who grew up with the original series, nothing will ever equal those first incredible films.

But Rian Johnson (who wrote and directed) clearly loves this franchise as much as anyone and honors it in a way that should dazzle even the most diehard fan.

Like The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi admirably blends nostalgia for the original characters we love and invests us in the newer characters with the same passion. There are stunning battles and spectacular hero moments that will have you gasping.

After that tease at the end of The Force Awakens, we finally see how Luke (Mark Hamill) reacts to Rey (Daisy Ridley)’s appearance and it isn’t exactly what we expect.

First, it’s good it is to see Hamill (at last!) reinhabit the character we last saw speak in Return of the Jedi. He’s aged from wide-eyed boy to Master Jedi and to watch Hamill play all the notes of Bitter Hermit Luke is worth all the Porg merchandise. (More about the Porgs in a bit.) I wasn’t sold on some of Luke’s more comic moments, but he’s determined to undermine his own status as a legend, and if rattles Rey in the process, so be it.

While Han became a believer in The Force over the years and was eager to fight the good fight, Luke has retreated from the world and the Resistance. He’s also, like Han, become exponentially grumpier. I could have done with a little less of the Rey and Luke scenes, but then again, the Luke and Yoda scenes on Dagobah were never my favorite part of The Empire Strikes Back either.

In addition to the new heroes of the Resistance Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Finn (John Boyega) — and damn it’s great to see them again — we meet plucky Resistance fighter Rose (the immensely likable Kelly Marie Tran) and cool-headed Resistance leader Amilyn Holdo (the always great Laura Dern).

Poe, in particular, butts heads with Vice Admiral Holdo, just as he does with Leia. Besides tearing down legends, the film wants us to know that there’s more than one way to save the day and it isn’t always about flashy heroics.

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is facing his own crisis: The evil Supreme Leader (voiced by Andy Serkis) doubts his commitment and dismisses him as merely a “boy in a mask.” I was no fan of Kylo, but, fortunately, The Last Jedi adds some welcome new shades to his character. His unpredictability works in this film: You’re not sure what he’s going to do at any given moment. The debate about whether there’s still any good left in him seemed settled in the last film, but The Last Jedi finds interesting ways to keep us guessing.

Domhnall Gleeson was wasted in his brief role as General Hux in The Force Awakens, but here he’s given much more of a chance to be the overly-precise embodiment of corporate military evil that we love to hate.

If you were worried about those adorable Porgs hijacking the movie the way the Ewoks did with Return of the Jedi, don’t be. They’re not in it nearly as much as you might expect from the marketing. Admittedly, they are damn cute. And maybe after 34 years, fans aren’t so steamed about the Ewoks anymore.

There only a few moments when the nods to previous installments feel a bit like a “greatest hits” retread, such as in quick visit to a casino that recalls the famous cantina sequence in A New Hope. But just when you think the film might be coasting on nostalgia, or venturing into scenes that border on outright cheesiness, we’re whisked along confidently to the next thrilling moment.

Knowing that this is Fisher’s last film adds an unintended pathos to her scenes. I’m so grateful we have this final farewell to her. While the film is nowhere near as dark as Rogue One, you’ll likely be wiping away tears at the end.

In a dark age of our own, it feels good to celebrate humanity, heroism, and hope and The Last Jedi accomplishes that in spades.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 

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