Force Field

Who’ll rise to the ‘Star Wars’ challenge of ‘The Last Jedi’? 

TheLastJedi59dd0acaf1d4f (72)Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Starring Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher & Adam Driver
Directed by Rian Johnson
PG-13

Luke Skywalker Wants You!

Maybe the Rebel Alliance wouldn’t have a Jedi shortage—down to their Last Jedi, as the title suggests—if they’d launched a snappy, Uncle Sam-ish campaign for recruits, featuring posters of their most famous knight-warrior, oh…a few movies ago.

Now they’re in a bit of a pickle.

And Luke Skywalker doesn’t want anyone.

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Mark Hamill

That’s the premise of episode eight in the sprawling Star Wars canon, in which director Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over the franchise for a spectacular, full-throttle joyride of thrills, exhilarating, screen-filling visuals, emotional heft and humor, with familiar characters as well as new faces that we’ll almost certainly be seeing again.

The second film in the latest Star Wars trilogy, Last Jedi picks up where The Force Awakens (2015) left off: The spunky scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), simmering with powers of the Force, has sought out Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), now living as a hermit in self-imposed exile on a remote planet, “the most unfindable place in the galaxy.”

The Rebel Resistance, Rey tells Luke, is in a very bad spot, under serious threat by the evil forces of the First Order under command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—who, as we learned (in The Force Awakens), is the son of Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the late Han Solo.

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Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

Kylo, strong with the dark side of the Force, killed Solo (Harrison Ford) in the last movie, so there’ve obviously been some pretty serious daddy issues going on there for a while.

The Resistance desperately needs a hero—can they count on the legendary Luke? Even when he tells Rey that, no, “it’s time for the Jedi to end”?

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Kelly Marie Tran & John Boyega

Meanwhile, cocky X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) continues to rally the troops on the Rebel’s base ship, along with his indispensable robotic copilot, BB8. Former Strormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), who defected to the Rebels in the previous movie, goes off on a desperate mission with the resourceful Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a Resistance maintenance worker, and a shady, shifty new character (played—deliciously—by Benicio del Toro) who seems to know his way around, into and out of just about anything, anywhere.

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Carrie Fisher

Star Wars fans will be giddy with all the detail, interweaving plot lines and “family reunion” feel of whole affair. It’s no spoiler to say that Hamill, who became an pop-culture icon as Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy, plays a major role. Or that the scenes with Fisher, as now-General Leia Organa, have added poignancy with the knowledge that she died just after completing her work on this film. When another (new) character, played by Laura Dern, bids Organa a goodbye and tells her, “May the Force be with you…always,” the pause before that last, lingering word hangs heavy in the air with four decades of sweet Star Wars memories.

No spoilers here, but some other very recognizable characters pop up, too, and they’ll delight SW fans of all ages and stages.

The effects are dazzling—a beautiful, artfully choreographed, light-sabre battle-royal ballet; an operatic combat scene on the white plains of a mineral planet where every scrape of the surface stirs up blood-red streaks and plumes of ash; a visit to the cosmic gambling mecca Canto Bright, where Finn and Rose take a wild romp on horse-like creatures called Fathiers; a hilarious visual “joke” with a landing craft that turns out to be…well, not a landing craft.

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A Porg

There’s an especially cheer-worthy kiss, some levitating pebbles that foretell the rise of bigger things, and new creatures, including adorable little puffin-like birds called Porgs and sparkly Crystal Foxes, who inadvertently hold a key to the Rebels’ survival.

There’s also plenty of character depth and complexity, psychological layering and questions begging for answers. Who were Rey’s parents? What made Luke so cranky? Will Finn and Rose succeed in their daring, life-or-death sprint across the galaxy? What’s going on with the long-distance, Force-telepathy Skype sessions between Rey and Kylo?

And, always, what happens next?

Johnson won’t be directing the next—final—leg of the trilogy, the ninth episode of the overarching Star Wars opus, which will conclude in 2019 with J.J. Abrams, the director of The Force Awakens, back at the helm. And before that, there’ll be another “standalone” movie, about the origins of Han Solo, directed by Ron Howard, in December of next year. But Johnson has been given a big vote of confidence to return for a brand new Star Wars trilogy, three more movies with new characters and new storylines spread out over the next decade.

The Rebels, as Leia has always reminded her troops, must be the “spark” to ignite an even greater flame, a fire to keep burning until good triumphs over evil.

The flame of Star Wars is gloriously bright in The Last Jedi, and the franchise that began 40 years ago shows no sign of burning out, going away or slowing down. Who’s the Last Jedi? I’m not telling. But know the Force is still strong.

In theaters Dec. 15, 2017

 

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