Movie Review: Star Wars - The Last Jedi

The next-to-last of the nine episodes keeps the series on track

The eighth and penultimate entry in the nine-part Star Wars saga puts Luke Skywalker front and center, making up for his brief scene in Episode VII.

After the opening scroll explaining the latest plot developments, Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens like most of the others with a shot of a ship in space.

The action picks up right after the events of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) has just made contact with a reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), living as a hermit on a distant and rugged planet. He is not welcoming to strangers.

The ragtag Resistance fleet, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is being pursued by vastly superior forces of the First Order and the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). There is barely time to get settled in your seat before the action takes off at full speed.

The sad news that actress Carrie Fisher died shortly after production wrapped up has put a bit of a damper on the film. She seems to have indeed completed her role, as there were no obvious scenes of her that looked like they were created by CGI models, as was done recently to rejuvenate characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Blade Runner 2049 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as well as to bring back the late Peter Cushing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

There also were no strange gaps or jumps in the film’s plot to cover up for unfilmed scenes.

Having spent her whole life leading the rebellion, Leia Organa seems a bit tired but still not ready to give up the fight. She has lost her sense of sarcasm and dry wit, which is a shame. Those helped the earlier episodes enormously.

Luke Skywalker, aged and alone, adds a somber note to the film as well. He was always much less flashy than Han Solo. Mark Hamill does some of the best acting in his career in The Last Jedi, and seems to have finally come to terms with the role and its implications. He seems to be both himself, Mark Hamill, and the wise but somber Jedi master at the same time.

The Star Wars series takes its inspiration from old movie serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Director and writer Rian Johnson juggles the action throughout the film, leaving various characters in cliffhanger situations as they try several plans to stop or escape from the First Order. The film’s 152 minute running time goes by rather quickly, with much of it spent with the viewer on the edge of the seat.

As one of the villains, Adam Driver does much better this time with his Kylo Ren character. He ditches the mask and fake synthesized voice, which makes him a bit more sympathetic. He is more mature and less of a spoiled brat.

Benicio del Toro is perhaps the most recognizable actor in a new roler, popping up late in the film and giving his character a large number of distinctive quirky traits. Laura Dern comes up as a Resistance leader with a colorful hairdo but a lack of charisma.

Older fans may like the sense of nostalgia created by a giant casino, where some action shifts temporarily. It is like a big-budget counterpart to the Mos Eisley Cantina in the original Star Wars: A New Hope.

The casino is filled with a seemingly endless amount of new aliens dressed in, what is for them, classy clothing. While the scene is fun, its references are too easily related to modern Earth, and not from a galaxy far, far away. One character looks like the logo from the game Monopoly. He mistakes a robot for a slot machine. The aliens in the Mos Eisley Cantina were just much more alien.

Trips into sewers and attempts to sneak past guards in disguise also harken back to the earlier episodes.

Some old technology used by the Resistance also brings back memories.

The ready availability of CGI also encouraged the filmmakers to do all of the action scenes bigger than previous ones. The overkill in a way overshadows some of the lower-key philosophical messages that Luke Skywalker and even some of the minor characters try to emphasize. Amid all the explosions, a new character tries to make a point about arms merchants, for example. It gets lost among all the noise. Bigger isn’t always better.

The production design is also appealing, with bold use of shades of red for some scenes, as well as a the constant interplay of black and white.

The Star Wars films are now made by a division of Disney, and come out just before Christmas. Several new characters were shoehorned into the plot with an eye on creating toys. One of these is a type of beakless bird called a porg. These fortunately just provide a few moments of comic relief, and don’t become an embarrassment like Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

Also created with an eye on toys is a racehorse/camel creature and a sort of lynx made out of crystal. The crystal critters, as they are called, add a magical element.

Like the first Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, this latest entry is also very dark in its themes and overall action. The series has always been best when the Rebels or the Resistance are being pushed to the brink.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is better than the sadly disappointing three prequels made by George Lucas between 1998 and 2005, and a bit better than Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But it is not nearly as good as the original trilogy, made way back between 1977 and 1983.

Viewers will have to wait until December 2019 to see how the ninth and supposedly final episode brings the saga to an end.

The death of Carrie Fisher in real life has forced the filmmakers to change their original plans, though no details are available. None of her scenes for the final chapter were filmed. Reportedly, she was supposed to have been the main focus of the film as Episode VII was about Han Solo and Episode VIII was about Luke Skywalker.

Before Episode IX comes out, there will be the film about young Han Solo, which is a production that has been plagued with troubles.

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