Subplots, space battles and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren run wild in the lengthy run time of ‘Star Wars: Episode VIII.’
Oh, wait, you were more interested in the parentage of Daisy Ridley’s heroine Rey, what Mark Hamill’s Jedi master Luke Skywalker has been doing on an island for years, and why Adam Driver’s menacing Kylo Ren is constantly miffed? The eighth and latest chapter in the long-running space opera dives into those mysteries from The Force Awakens, too.
In fact, The Last Jedi (***½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters Thursday night) tries to do a little too much in its overlong 2½ hours, yet writer/director Rian Johnson still turns in a stellar entry that owes much to George Lucas’ original films while finding a signature vibe of its own and unleashing a few welcome twists.
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Two different paths are taken for our returning heroes, starting with the Force Awakens fallout for the upstart Resistance: Hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his crew blew up the evil First Order’s Starkiller Base but quickly figure out how overmatched they are when the bad guys rebound with a full-scale assault.
It becomes a race for survival from there for a fleet led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and one that gets dicier when they meet up with new leader Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who immediately butts heads with Poe. The First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke (a CGI baddie played by Andy Serkis) gets into the fray, and former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and new Resistance mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) get their own undercover mission to help foil the enemy’s annihilation plans.
The First Order’s AT-M6 Walkers, along with Kylo’s shuttle, engage their enemies in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’ (Photo: Lucasfilm)
Meanwhile across the universe, Rey finds Luke in self-imposed exile and tries to convince him to come back and help turn the tide against the First Order. Once a farm boy and now a curmudgeon, Luke balks but finally gives Rey a crash course in the Force, as the penguin-like porgs chortle around them, and reveals his own tragic backstory with villainous nephew Kylo.
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Naturally, everybody’s subplots come together for a couple of major-league cosmic throwdowns and a lot of fun character moments for all. Isaac gets the Han Solo Memorial Award for wearing the flyboy-with-attitude role so well, the late Fisher shines as brightly as she did in the original films, and though Ridley and Hamill never quite click, she and Driver are fantastic together.
The Last Jedi is Driver’s to rule as much as Force Awakens was Ridley’s, and he’s awesome in it — Kylo is blockbuster cinema’s most magnetic and unpredictable antagonist since Heath Ledger’s Dark Knight Joker. Just as good is the original Star Wars hero: Hamill lends gravitas, warmth, power and even humility to old Luke in a memorable performance.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) returns to threaten the Resistance in ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’ (Photo: Industrial Light & Magic/Lucasfilm)
Johnson goes a little rogue from past filmmakers by infusing Last Jedi with more modern hilarity and occasional quirkiness than you’d find in your normal Star Wars (though it works better here than in, say, Thor: Ragnarok). There’s no denying his obvious Star Wars love, though. In addition to including unexpected goosebump-inducing callbacks, the director takes time to deconstruct certain aspects of franchise lore that before now probably just existed on a Reddit board. Johnson also adds new wrinkles to the mystical Force, some of which work while others might polarize purists.
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The sacrifices all pack a gut punch, the space battles and action scenes are killer — one battle featuring Driver and Ridley is a Star Wars all-timer — but the momentum suffers when The Last Jedi‘s zippy pace downshifts. Its overstuffed length will test the resolve, though come on: We’re already counting down till Episode IX.
Before you head out to see the new movie, here’s a recap of where the saga left off with ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’