Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) ☆ ☆ ☆

I was surprised how much I enjoyed the new Star Wars film.  At 152 minutes it is the longest of the series so far; its lead is reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has always been the least interesting character from the original trilogy; its writer-director Rian Johnson is new to the series; the story bends over backwards to place female characters in positions of power.  On the other hand, The Last Jedi is never boring despite its length, Skywalker delivers a bravura climax, Johnson’s writing and directing are very good, and the women deport themselves with class and determination (even if Laura Dern does seem miscast).

Rian Johnson’s film takes place right after the events of The Force Awakens (2015).  The story follows the retreat of the Resistance from the First Order, with tangents that take characters away from, and then bring them back to, battle against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and evil tyranny.  There must be something fundamentally wrong with interstellar politics of the future that allows movements like the Empire and the First Order to so quickly and utterly climb to power and threaten everything free and good in the galaxy.  The one sad thought I had as the resistance fighters were digging in on the salt-covered planet was that the same series of events seemed to be happening all over again.

Other than overlength, this movie has much to recommend it.  It is fast-paced fun, taking place in more than one hundred specific locations, accompanied by a spirited John Williams soundtrack, with cute new animal species and compelling characters.  I actually liked Johnson’s dramatic use of closeups, although I missed the wipe dissolves that so many of the other films used with aplomb.  Most of the action was handled well; by that I mean that it isn’t super-speedy and hard to tell what is happening, as with the Transformer movies.  And much of the plot seemed spontaneous, rather than planned out like an intricate puzzle.  Life is messy and plans change, and this movie followed those dictums to their logical ends.

The Last Jedi is a nice mix of action, character and nostalgia.  There is perhaps too much nostalgia because so many of the original characters and elements make appearances, but this is sure to change as the original trio of Luke, Leia and Han Solo make their final contributions.  The strength of this series that its mythic elements, from Yoda and the Force to the classic underdog stance of a small resistance standing tall against oppressive regimes remains universally powerful.  As long as the series can draw upon the notion of reluctant heroes fighting against tyrannical, soul-crushing conformity, it will be successful.  ☆ ☆ ☆.  1 January 2018.

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