Star Wars The Last Jedi

STAR WARS” DELIGHTS AS IT AD HERS TO SPIRIT OF THE SERIES

A Film Review by Tim Riley

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (Rated PG-13)For those of you keeping track, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is Episode VIII, which even though it is the sequel to “The Force Awakens” and stays true to the franchise’s central themes, has a fresh feeling to it that makes this film very pleasurable.

I would argue that “The Last Jedi” could stand on its own and still entertain an audience unaware of the “Star Wars” history that now goes back four decades. As an aside, we should just forget about the rather execrable three prequels anyway.

However, the familiarity with episodes IV through VII makes “The Last Jedi” more enjoyable in the sense that how the characters have evolved over time are fascinating to watch even if you can’t always have the deep knowledge of them that never seems to elude the dedicated fanboys.

Indeed, I admit to having seen every single “Star Wars” film (yeah, I have tried to erase Episodes I through III from my memory using Jedi mind tricks, alas to no avail), and could never keep up with the minutiae so appealing to hard core enthusiasts.

Luckily for readers here, I am not likely going to give away any spoilers because it’s no easy task to follow the trail of the gems planted within the story line. One thing for sure is that “The Last Jedi” respects the franchise’s traditions.

The film opens brilliantly with the dazzling score of John Williams’ soundtrack, signaling the excitement sure to follow as the screen fills with the iconic narrative of the trouble awaiting the Resistance in its battle to stay free of the First Order.

General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher’s last film) and the Resistance are under heavy attack from the superior armed forces of their foes, guided by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis as the horribly ugly alien creature) and fueled by the minions of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson).

Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is living in a self-imposed exile on an island called Ahch-To that he describes as the most “unfindable” place, and yet the feisty rebel fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives to solicit his help.

Skywalker’s hideaway is populated with some interesting creatures, one species being the small, cuddly bird-like Porgs, which are, of course, cute to behold and have already made a splash with the inevitable merchandising of children’s books and toys.

One Porg ends up as a co-pilot with Chewbacca, whose distinctive presence is now courtesy of Joonas Suotamo, and it should be noted that Chewbacca, at least in my opinion, is one of the most indispensable characters who has always been fun to watch.

Back to Luke Skywalker, who has retreated to his enclave as if it were punishment for having failed those training for the Force, is a central presence that the Resistance anxiously needs, a point that Rey labors so mightily to put across during her uninvited visit.

Meanwhile, Rey, who is conflicted about not knowing the identity of her parents, battles in mind and physical action with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the disgraced son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, best remembered for the patricide scene of the previous installment.

As the story moves along, the embattled Resistance takes on heavy losses, to the point that hotshot fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, a forthright presence) starts going rogue and even challenges the authority of Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).

Finn (John Boyega), the former stormtrooper who crosses over to the good guys, seems like he might be a deserter but becomes a valuable resource when he teams up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) for a daring mission behind enemy lines.

Succeeding to some extent with training in the Force, Rey has great scenes with the duplicitous Kylo Ren in which both are capable fighters. Terrific lightsaber battles take place in the Supreme Leader’s lair, which is symbolically drenched in red color hues.

For his part, Ren is arguably the best villain, given that he still appears conflicted for familial reasons, whereas bad guys like General Hux and Snoke are virtually caricatures of wickedness. At times, Hux is a laughable figure in more ways than one.

What matters to many is that there are great land and aerial battle scenes full of stunning action, while some people like the errant codebreaker (Benicio del Toro) drift through in a limited role that resonates with quirky personality.

Rian Johnson, new to the franchise as director and writer of “The Last Jedi,” has infused this chapter of the “Star Wars” canon with an enthusiastic adherence to the fundamentals of the science-fiction adventure, thereby offering new hope for the enduring vitality of the series.

The mythology of the early days of George Lucas’ vision (before the lame prequels) continues to shine in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Many great surprises are in store, which should hopefully please the hardcore fans as well as the more casual viewers.

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