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‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ cements the franchise as a Christmas tradition.

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The Last Jedi is the most entertaining and well acted Star Wars movie ever released.

Director Rian Johnson took a lot of risks, most of which pay off in ways you may not expect (I’ll get to those down in the “spoilers” section, of course). Granted, there are some plot angles and storytelling quirks that staunch critics might not like. But let’s be frank about the purpose of these movies.

The goal of the current Star Wars movies is to provide a thrilling experience that parents, dripping with nostalgia over the cultural phenomenon of their childhood, will be just as excited to go and see as their children. It’s not trying to bring home any Oscars and it’s not trying to win over stuffy critics who don’t like Star Wars to begin with. Thank goodness for that!

Yes, I’m not naive to the fact that Disney is focused on making as much money as possible. But if they are providing an experience that brings millions of parents and kids together before the holidays, to do something that is great fun for everyone, I say they deserve the record breaking profits.

Now let’s get into the movie . . . .

Rian Johnson stuck to the philosophy of relying on practical effects, such as real spaceship models and alien costumes, while keeping the CGI usage under control. This is where George Lucas’ prequels disappointed a lot of people, because the glossy CGI was so over the top that the movies didn’t seem connected to the original films, and the rugged feel that people remembered was lost.

Not so, however, with The Last Jedi. This one has the grit and heart you’ve been looking for.

– SPOILERS BELOW – SPOILERS BELOW – SPOILERS BELOW –

If you have not seen the movie, and do not want to be spoiled, please come back and read the rest after viewing the film.

Much of The Last Jedi revolves around a massive spaceship chase, after the First Order fleet tracks the Resistance through a light speed jump. There is something quite rewarding about watching these ships onscreen go from sitting still to zipping away at light speed, one at a time, almost in harmony. It’s beautiful to behold and the effects are extraordinary.

It was risky, however, to base the main story around a simple chase where the Resistance ships will inevitably run out of fuel and be destroyed, with several offshoot plotlines revolving around it. Yet the biggest gamble the movie took was its handling of Luke.

Luke Skywalker is no longer the headstrong optimist we last saw in Return of The Jedi. He is broken and disillusioned. And not just in the Yoda-like, I’m reluctant to train you, sort of way.  Luke is done. Done with the Jedi. Done with the Force. Done with life.

This is not what fans were expecting. It does, however, result in Mark Hamill’s greatest performance of his life.

But there is one moment that is tough for many to swallow. It’s a moment where Luke Skywalker, for only a split second mind you, considers murdering Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) in his sleep. He turns on his lightsaber with the intent of killing his nephew because he foresaw all the pain and suffering the young Solo would cause in the future. Hamill sold it as well as any actor could, but I will admit, that storyline could have been written much better.

Gripes aside, the growing relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren is masterfully done. It works well that they are able to see and talk to each other, from across the galaxy, even if it is not under to their own control. Make no mistake, this is a very convenient plot device, using the Force like this. Yet it is put to good use throughout the movie.

The film also delivers on great pinnacle moments. Here are the top three highlights of the movie:

  1. Vice Admiral Holdo’s sacrifice: After we’re led to believe that she is a coward, and possibly even a traitor, she stays behind to give the rest of the Resistance a chance to escape. In the moment when she climbs into the chair and starts pointing her ship at the First Order destroyer, we all know what is going to happen. You can feel the wave of emotions rush over the audience in the theater. The stark silence after the lightspeed jump is heart stopping.
  2. Kylo saves Rey: Again, as soon as you realize what is happening, the excitement is electric. And it is further exhilarating when they team up for battle right afterwards. The lightsaber fighting style of these two, I will say, has the refreshing scrappiness that we remember from the original movies. It is not the over choreographed, physics defying, acrobatic dance that we got used to in the prequels. Soon, we discover that Kylo didn’t actually turn to the good side, but saw an opportunity to seize more power—with or without Rey. It’s a letdown, but a necessary one.
  3. Luke saves the day: This is what fans were waiting for. Luke Skywalker walking out to face the First Order, alone, is downright awesome. The entire sequence is a masterpiece. From the onslaught of firepower all aimed at him, to him brushing it off, to the duel with Kylo Ren. The Matrix-like lightsaber dodge by Luke is a nice touch as well. The keen observer does realize something is up when Kylo’s feet are making marks in the white salt, while Luke’s feet are not. In the end, we are left with a mixture of sadness that Luke wasn’t really there and sheer awe that he was able to create this entire illusion from his yoga seat, light years away, on his island.

But why did Luke have to die by fading into the Force, much like Yoda and Obi-Wan? It has to be that way to maintain balance. If a Jedi were able to do what Luke did, without sacrificing themselves, it would be ridiculous. That’s just too much power.

On a lighter note, I hope that Chewbacca and his new porg friends continue to team up in the future. The amusing contrast between the massive, temperamental wookie and the adorable little furry penguins is both cute and heartwarming. Chewie is still feeling deep grief from the loss of his best friend, Han Solo, and his new little friends may be exactly what he needs to get through it.

Overall, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrilling movie for both adults and kids. It provides an experience full of excitement and fun for countless families to get out and enjoy together during this Christmas season. I’m confident Disney and Lucasfilm will continue to deliver on this tradition for years to come.


Photo Credit:
Dick Thomas Johnson source (license)

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