Sunday, December 17, 2017

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" : Movie Review

   I'll admit I was a little worried walking into Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

   I enjoyed the previous chapter - The Force Awakens - but it was very much a remake of A New Hope (with some new twists thrown in).

   So the big fear was that The Last Jedi would be a similar remake of The Empire Strikes Back (about which my old pal Jeff said, "It should have been called The Empire Wins.")

   The second of three acts is traditionally the dark part of the story, where all the bad stuff happens (again, Empire) - and in some ways, that's what we get here.

   But I'm happy to report that my fears were needless - like Empire, The Last Jedi is a wonder and a delight.

   It starts out with a terrific action sequence as the Resistance forces, led by General Leia (the beloved and sadly departed Carrie Fisher) and ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), face off against the much bigger and more powerful forces of the First Order (formerly known as the Empire).

    The movie jumps back and forth between the different members of the large cast, including the point where the last movie ended, with the mysterious Rey (the luminous Daisy Ridley) holding out a light saber to an older, grizzled Luke Skywalker (a gravitas-laden Mark Hamill), who has been in self-imposed exile for some time.

   And from that point on, the movie will continue to surprise and confound you, moving in directions you may not expect. Hamill is incredible as a man still trying to cope with his greatest failure - the one that led (perhaps) to the turn to the dark side by Kylo Ren (the intense Adam Driver), who serves the supreme leader of the First Order, the twisted and powerful Snoke (the voice of Andy Serkis).

   The story careens from one storyline to the next, building nicely as it all leads to an intense and surprising final battle.

   The only misstep in the story - if misstep it is - involves efforts by Finn (the fiery John Boyega) and the mechanic Rose (the lovely Kelly Marie Tran, who gets one of my favorite lines in the movie) and the droid BB-88 to track down a codebreaker. It almost seems like a plot line too far, but it's loaded with so many wonderful moments that I wouldn't give it away for anything.

   The movie succeeds because it's chock full of ideas - examinations of elements of the series we've taken for granted, the true power of the Jedi (light vs. dark), the nature of war, facing your own demons, finding your place, holding on to hope - the list goes on and on.

    It also includes some amazing action sequences (the battle in the throne room is worth the cost of admission), stunning visuals, and powerful music (as always) by John Williams.

   I was surprised at how hard the movie hit emotionally. Part of that is probably due to the untimely death of Carrie Fisher - every time she appears on the screen that loss hits hard - and part is due to the joy of seeing these beloved characters again. This is definitely a star turn for Hamill, who hits it out of the park.

   A lot of the emotion can also be attributed to a wonderful script by a gifted director, Rian Johnson - he knows when to wink at the fans, when to allow some humor to leaven the mood, and when to punch the gas pedal.

   As I walked out of the theatre with my family, I couldn't stop thinking about the movie - what effect it'll have on the future of the series and where it all goes from here. I'm really not sure what's next, and that's not a bad thing at all.

   It feels like Last Jedi may have broken the chains that were holding the series back - giving it a wide open future in which to run.

Grade: A


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