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Movie Review: The Force Is Strong With "The Last Jedi" In Every Way

Starring Mark Hamill,  Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis,
Lupita Nyon'go, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, 
Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson
Reviewed by Patrick Gibbs & Paul Gibbs

 Out of Four

A couple of years ago, in theaters not at all far away, Star Wars: The Force Awakens took the entertainment world by storm by bringing the beloved franchise back to its place as the hottest property on the planet (Earth) and becoming the highest grossing film of all time worldwide. For some, it was much needed apology for the lackluster prequels, and on the opposite end of the spectrum, some dismissed it as merely a point by point rehash of A New Hope. We can honestly say that we sympathize with both feelings, but ultimately do not subscribe to either point of view (you're going to find that a great many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on your point of view.). As deeply flawed as they are, we still have an unapologetic fondness for the prequel trilogy (we think Revenge of the Sith in particular tends to get an unfair shake, and is an incredibly satisfying story with some great action, especially the final sequence directed by Steven Spielberg.). The Force Awakens, however, brought back the old fashioned sense of fun and adventure, replacing the stiff, awkward acting and clunky dialogue of those films with energetic and lovable performances and a lot of clever banter, to say nothing of bringing back Harrison Ford and the Millenium Falcon. No, it didn't take Star Wars anywhere new (except into the 21st century, with its feminist sensibilities and and much more diverse cast), but director J.J. Abrams did his job by restoring enthusiasm for the franchise and taking the audience on a gloriously fun ride.

"There was a hand, too. Did you find that?"
(Image Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.)
The Last Jedi has a new director at the helm, Rian Johnson, and while this is definitely the darker middle chapter that The Empire Strikes Back established as the norm for such a trilogy, Johnson seems to have either been given more freedom or just felt a greater sense of daring in terms of shaking things up.  The story begins right where the last film left off, with the Resistance having destroyed Starkiller base and Rey (Daisy Ridley) face to face with the legendary Luke Skywalker. But every time you think it is starting to settle in to being a clone of Empire, it pulls the rug out from under you and goes in surprising (even shocking) directions.

The cast of old and returning characters simply couldn't be better, lead by Mark Hamill in what may be the performance of his career, and Carrie Fisher getting more of a chance to step out of the shadows and really bring back Leia's fire and wisdom. Frankly, one of our few disappointments in The Force Awakens is that we didn't feel that Leia returned in all her glory the way Han did in his. Not so here, and it's not about how she looks and sounds, or even about screen time. It's about the heart, soul, strength and grace of the character, and we're even sadder now about Carrie Fisher's passing, because she and Leia have still got it and they always will, living on in immortality. As far as any worries as to how this film would fair without the presence of Harrison Ford, ours were lost the moment Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron spoke his first lines. Isaac abosultely nails every moment that he is on screen, and in truth, Alden Ehrenreich may need to worry as much about filling his shoes as Ford's in next summer's Solo: A Star Wars Story. Daisy Ridley continues to impress, John Boyega has plenty of great moments, of course, and Adam Driver is truly outstanding as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, who is a much deeper and intriguing character this time around.

Image Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.
The new characters added for this adventure don't disappoint either. Benicio Del Toro is a magnetic and intriguing prescence, and Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (a character Paul already loved from reading the novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan) earns a place of honor in the Star Wars pantheon. And as for Kellie Marie Tran as Rose Tico, well, she's every bit as adorable as the highly hyped porgs (but don't think for a moment that means her character isn't a strong and capable Rebel.).

Writer/Director Johnson's pacing never lags, and the extended runtime (it's the longest Star Wars movie yet) is never really felt. But it does afford him the opportunity to do things and go places Abrams couldn't, and make his story and worlds deeper and and more fully realized. Where The Force Awakens was about setting up a new trilogy and bringing back the feel of classic Star Wars, The Last Jedi is about moving the story forward and challenging some of our ideas of what a Star Wars movie is, while still in the end giving us the satisfying feel of classic Star Wars. In addition, the as far as any sentiments that the First Order is a weak copy of the Empire, the sobering realization of how prevalent neo-nazism and other groups that want to bring things back to "the way they used to be" this year makes you realize just how believable and brilliant a creation they are, and it brings a whole new resonance.

Image Courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.
While we both agree that Johnson told a richer and more original story than Abrams, Paul preferred Abrams' visual directiorial style, which he found Spielbergian in its skillful flourish and fluidity, while Patrick was more partial to Johnson's touch, which he felt more accurately captured the classic Star Wars style with a straightforward, traditional approach to the camera work. We do feel the need to warn vitriolic CG haters that Johnson's warmer feelings toward the prequels come through not only in story references but in unique. Notwithstanding the CG Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, this is the most overall digital looking chapter in this latest era of Star Wars films. No, youssa not be seein'  any Gungans, but you will see plenty of effect augmented stunts and action, and even CGI creatures (though not all of them are CGI.). They are not seamless, but they are greatly improved from what could be done in 1999. Relax and go with it, it was always fake.

On the whole, there will be a whole lot more people that feel satisfied with The Last Jedi than not, and with good reason. It's a terrific new chapter in the saga that dares to go in some pretty grown up directions while staying true to what made us all love this as children. It is truly a loving salute to everyone that grew up on Star Wars, whatever generation of fan they may be.

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