Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Spoiler-Free Review)

When Kathleen Kennedy took over Lucasfilm, and with it the task of creating a new Star Wars trilogy, she approached J.J. Abrams to helm the then-yet-untitled Episode Seven. To everyone’s surprise, Abrams declined, but Kennedy got him to reverse course by asking him a single question: “Who is Luke Skywalker?” According to Abrams, that question intrigued him enough to get on board and direct “The Force Awakens.” And while the answer was teased at in Abrams’ film, Rian Johnson (Looper), writer and director of the anxiously-awaited follow-up, works to drive it home in “The Last Jedi.”

The ultimate question is: will “The Last Jedi” answer all the other questions posed in “The Force Awakens”?

Continued

Who were Rey’s parents? Who (or what) is Supreme Leader Snoke? How did Maz Kanata come to possess Luke’s lightsaber? What is the connection (if any) between Rey and Kylo Ren? Where did the Knights of Ren go? WHAT ABOUT CONSTABLE ZUVIO? These are all questions that will be in the viewer’s mind as the narrative of “The Last Jedi” unfolds in front of them. (Okay, maybe not all these questions…)

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“The Last Jedi” picks up right where “The Force Awakens” ends. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has just scored a massive win against the First Order by destroying their monstrous Starkiller Base. But it doesn’t come without cost, because as soon as the battle is won, a new one begins and the remaining members of the ragtag rebellion are on the run from General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the First Order’s superior star fleet. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally come face-to-face with someone she spent most of the previous film seeking out, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). This is the man who she’s known mostly as a legend, who she reveres as a hero. And here is when Johnson plays with the old axiom that sometimes you should never meet your heroes.

What follows that set-up is a near relentless two and a half hours where Johnson treats Star Wars fans to the chases, space-battles, duels and one-liners that they expect. But does it provide answers to all the questions that were posed in “The Force Awakens”? Johnson knows that we’re waiting on them, so he plays with us in what feels like an endless number of set-ups and switch-backs, crosses and double crosses, each playing with our expectations before finally getting to the payoff.

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On the plus side, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) have their character arcs advanced, and we are introduced to a new sidekick in Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). Laura Dern‘s Vice Admiral Holdo gets to add to the pantheon of women-in-command in the male-dominated Star Wars cinematic universe.

On the other side of the ledger, Gwendoline Christie‘s Captain Phasma continues as the Boba Fett of the Sequel Trilogy.

There are also callbacks to the Prequel Trilogy – yeah folks the Prequels still exist – where Johnson works to reconcile themes from those films with the current trilogy.

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The film is full of emotional moments, gasps and laughs. (Porgs for life, y’all!) The space battles in this film raise the bar from those in “Rogue One.”

And yes, Carrie Fisher’s performance will tug at your heart. Bring tissues.

But “The Last Jedi” pulls us on a string for just a bit too long. Some questions are answered, while others are just ignored.  I’m guessing there are scenes addressing them lying on the cutting room floor that we’ll later see in the Blu-ray release. Then again, knowing that Johnson’s original cut ran 3 hours, I’m grateful that he went with a relatively leaner cut. Or at least my bladder was.

Just like “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One”, “The Last Jedi” is going to stir a lot of debate among Star Wars fans. And it’s going to raise as many questions as it answers.

But does it answer the question: Who is Luke Skywalker?

It depends on your particular point of view.

GEEK TO ME RATING: 3 stars out of 4

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI
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In Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Skywalker saga continues as the heroes of The Force Awakens join the galactic legends in an epic adventure that unlocks age-old mysteries of the Force and shocking revelations of the past.

The film stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is written and directed by Rian Johnson and produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. J.J. Abrams, Tom Karnowski and Jason McGatlin are the executive producers.

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