FILM REVIEW – STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI. With Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.. 152 minutes.
The “Star Wars” franchise turned 40 this year. It’s telling that George Lucas’s two greatest contributions to the series may have been, first, creating it, and then selling it off. Certainly the offerings since the 2015 reboot of the series with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” has helped fans forget the dreadful “prequels” which have a place in the hearts of most fans only slightly higher in the canon than the “Star Wars Christmas Special.”
“The Force Awakens” had its plusses and minuses, but for the most part was a strong effort to move the story forward. While Disney – which now owns the franchise – is trying to turn out a “Star Wars” film every year, they are creatively offering films that branch off from the series rather than attempting to do a new chapter every year. Thus last year’s “Rogue One” was a true prequel, a story set just before the events of the original “Star Wars,” and a story focusing on Han Solo is due next year.
This year, though, brings us STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI. In answer to the first question people have: yes, you need to see “The Force Awakens” before you see this. Picking up where that story left off, the film follows two storylines. In one, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, in her final role), is leading the remnants of the Resistance in escape after a devastating attack by the First Order, the successors to the bad guys of the original trilogy. Among her crew are Finn (John Boyega), a former Stormtrooper who defected from the Empire, and Poe (Oscar Isaac), a hotshot fighter pilot who doesn’t always follow orders.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley), has tracked down the long-missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now a much older, much grumpier version of the callow youth of the original series, hoping to be trained as a Jedi Knight. All of them are working to the purpose of resisting and defeating Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who follows the “dark side” of the Force (and happens to be the son of Leia and Han). Rey, who has a mysterious link to Kylo, believes he can be redeemed.
In terms of plot, that’s really all you need to know – and, perhaps, want to know – going in. The resulting film will more than satisfy fans in spite of, and maybe even because of, things we come to expect. Yes, there’s a variation of the cantina scene from the original “Star Wars,” but on a much grander scale than previously depicted. And when Finn and Rose (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) have to deactivate a tracking device, it is through as convoluted a process as possible.
On the other hand, there are moments of great invention, and some surprising new cast members, some of whom one hopes will return for “Episode IX” (tentatively scheduled for release in December 2019). There’s also some welcome humor, often when least expected. What’s clear with “The Last Jedi” is that the people at the helm now have found their footing, and are taking their inheritance seriously but are not afraid to break new ground. That seems to have been Lucas’s problem with his prequels – digging in rather than thinking about what might happen next. If “The Last Jedi” has a main flaw it’s that it’s too long at just over two-and-a-half hours. When the film is cross-cutting between the escape of the Resistance and the showdown with Snoke, one might assume this was the climax of the film. In fact, there’s much more to come.
Time will tell how Disney will shepherd the “Star Wars” franchise into the future, but for now “The Last Jedi” represents a triumph for the series and will make you forget Jar Jar Binks ever existed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, including Jar Jar Binks Must Die. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.