On top of Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago, and the side trip last year to the stand-alone Rogue One, Disney has now more than confirmed the wisdom of rebooting Lucasfilm’s crown jewel saga with what just might be the best film in the entire series that started 40 years ago in the mind of George Lucas. That first movie, 1977’s Star Wars, is to date still the only one (and one of the very few science fiction films, period) to have garnered a Best Picture Oscar nomination. However, if the Academy is handing them out this year on the basis of sheer fun and big-canvas filmmaking at its zenith, then Star Wars: The Last Jedi would be more than deserving of the honor.
In addition to brilliant action sequences and state-of-the-art CGI effects, there is strong character development as this chapter continues to pave the way for a new generation of stars to take on the mantle and lift it further into galaxies far far away. This one has it all and then some, and on top of everything else offers a poignant final goodbye to Carrie Fisher, who goes out with a strong presence as the Leia we know and love. She represents one of several terrific female characters that includes the addition of Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. On the surface Dern plays her as a no-nonsense operator and second-in-command, but you can tell she may not be exactly what she seems at first glance.
As I say in my video review above, writer-director Rian Johnson asked premiere-goers not to give away key plot points, so I will stay in the spirit of that. But it’s safe to say this edition pretty much picks up where Force Awakens stopped. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is gone. His son with Leia, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is struggling with the Dark Side, but also surprising with his willingness to explore his psyche in pitched conversations with Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has an odd connection with him. She is a kick-ass Jedi-in-waiting as she has piloted the Millennium Falcon onto the island where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has stowed away. Hoping to get inspiration and secrets of the Jedi spirit from him, all she really finds is a man who has put all that behind him and basically renounced everything he once was in the Jedi realm.
Meanwhile, Leia is now commanding the Resistance but running out of gas as evil Snoke (Andy Serkis) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) are hot on their trail as the First Order seeks revenge and the destruction of the Resistance which is just trying to survive. These storylines intersect with others including the emergence of Poe, the hotshot pilot played by Oscar Isaac, who seems to be filling the wildcat void left by Solo’s demise. John Boyega is back as Stormtrooper-turned-Resistance maven Finn, though of the main players his character is the one still needing the most definition. He teams with a great new character, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a kick-ass firebrand I found very welcome to these proceedings as she seeks out some hackers. A colorful sequence set in a Vegas-style casino ramps up the action and leads to another new character, DJ, played amusingly by Benecio Del Toro as a slippery codebreaker.
Johnson has stuffed so much material into this outing that it seems everyone gets their moment — and then some. Of course, no Star Wars would be worth its salt without a menagerie of creatures, and standouts here are the adorable Porgs, who will have audiences oohing and awwing, and have a nice sequence involving Chewbacca and a home-cooked meal. Also back of course are C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), a nostalgic visit with Luke and R2-D2, the newer crowd favorite droid BB-8, and — wait for it — Yoda in a beautiful scene with Luke. Frank Oz does the honors.
At 2 hours and 32 minutes, the longest ever in the series, there are lots of highlights and probably a few too many endings, but the pièce de résistance of the Resistance has to be a lightsaber duel to top them all. Acting is first-rate, with Isaac coming into his own and Driver making Kylo Ren about as complex and fascinating as any character to ever travel in this galaxy. Hamill gets a showcase like Luke has never had and makes the most of a very satisfying return for Mr. Skywalker. The music from John Williams is a must, and as always simply soars.
Producers are Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. Disney unleashes this massive blockbuster wide Friday. Do you plan to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi? Let us know what you think.