‘The Last Jedi,’ not just another Star Wars

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Young Skywalker, missed you we have! In this second movie of the third trilogy of this never-ending series (we mean that in a good way), Disney is pumping new life into the 40-year old saga. Writer-director Rian Johnson (“Looper”) pays homage to the original cast while passing the saber on to new stars of this cosmic extravaganza.

The infamous title scrawl explains that Episode VIII will feature the Resistance preparing to do battle against the tyrannical First Order. The ruthless and narcissistic Supreme Leader (Andy Serkis) gains blind loyalty to the dark side, scolding his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) “You’re not Vader, you’re just a child in a mask!”

Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks advice and counsel from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). The last Jedi is now a dispirited recluse holed up on a remote island (filmed off the coast of Ireland). Somehow, Ridley has gained sufficient gravitas since her lightweight debut in the last feature. And, Hamill has matured into a credibly wise and proficient sorcerer. This Obi Wannabe Kenobi presents himself similar to Alec Guinness in the 1977 original.

This remarkable franchise was developed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In 2012, the imaginative George Lucas sold the rights to Disney for $4 billion. The mutual hope was to breathe new life into the series. J.J. Abrams will return for the finale of this trilogy, but Johnson is slated to write and direct Episodes 10-12 sometime thereafter.

Kylo Ren demands, “Let the past die, kill it if you have to!” Fortunately, the filmmakers prefer an orderly transition. Nostalgic Star Wars fans are treated to appearances of Luke, Yoda, R2-D2, C-3P0, Chewbacca and even that trusty Millennium Falcon. Despite her untimely death, all of Carrie Fisher’s scenes (barring stunts) are hers, including the dialogue (no CG effects). Johnson also credits Fisher for assisting with the script.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) explains, “We are the spark that will light the fire.” Joining Poe in this new universe are Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Ridley), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), DJ (Benicio del Toro), BB-8, the Porgs and many others. Laura Dern, Justin Theroux and Warwick Davis fill out the supporting cast while the magnificent John Williams returns for his eighth time composing the gloriously soaring “Star Wars” score.

This is not just another “Star Wars,” which would be enough for most. The filmmakers recognize this beloved series is much more than just a sci-fi saga. To many fans, this is close to a religion. Not that they worship it, but are so emotionally invested in the characters, the mythology and the entire Star Wars universe that the final production is held to a higher standard. There can be no disturbance in the force.

This series has always been a sprawling, mythological space Western. Once again, it is filled with action, incidents and fascinating characters. This one delves into a hero’s dark middle-aged crises. Overwhelmed with guilt, Luke regrets how his colossal failures negate his successful legacy. Why should he proliferate more damage with Rey, “I’ve seen this raw strength only once before. It didn’t scare me enough then, it does now.”

These scenes add yet another dimension to the character as well as to the storyline, but this extended middle segment drags the movie from warp speed down to a slog for far too long before bringing it all back together for the exciting grand finale(s).

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is two and half hours, which makes it the longest Star Wars movie yet. It is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence. It was once said, “If I had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.” The original cut was over three hours long, but trimming to two hours could have made it that much better.

We wondered if anyone was ever going to address how many Jedi traitors there had been. Kylo Ren killed his father, tried to kill his mother, and his last name wasn’t even Menendez. “Star Wars” is space battles, lightsaber duels and good vs. evil. Yet, it miraculously reflects a common person’s struggle in everyday life. Therefore, after 40 years, we rightfully chant the anthem, “May the force be with you!”

Ron’s Rating: B+
Leigh’s Rating: B+

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Ron & Leigh Martel