Updated: Tuesday, December 12, 2017, 12:02 PM
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a dandy title, although — search your feelings — you know it’s not entirely accurate.
A better subtitle would be, We’re Running Low on Jedi, Perhaps its Time to Re-Stock.
Candidates for new blood include Rey (Daisy Ridley), the young, lowborn (an emerging theme) scrapper in whom the force is strong.
When last we saw her — in J.J. Abrams’ franchise reboot The Force Awakens — she was seeking reclusive Jedi Luke Skywalker on his planet of lonely exile. She was hoping to recruit him to join the rebel alliance to counter the evil First Order forces of Emperor Snoke and his dark-side-of-the-force apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a guy with Jedi potential and dark-side predilections.
Has Kylo totally gone over to Team Snoke?
It’s a version of the open question that drives all Star Wars movies. Kylo may have some good in him, and Rey may have some bad in her. They both know it, and it forms the basis of the Junior Jedi Psychic Hotline that is the most interesting narrative device in Rian Johnson’s competent next entry in the Star Wars saga. No matter what’s going on in the various battles that form the plot, Kylo and Rey can at any moment see through time and space and try to draw the other to his/her side.
And what is going on in those battles?
First Order cruisers in relentless pursuit of rebel ships carrying Leia (the late, great Carrie Fisher) and the last of the beleaguered rebel alliance. Johnson makes these scenes his own with visual references to World War II carrier battles (fighters, bombers, dreadnoughts) and it’s an interesting choice, even if the falling bombs seem to suggest that gravity exists in outer space. Other references go all the way back to 18th century naval engagements — projectiles cut through space and explode at the end of their range with a muffled thump (technical aspects of the movie are first rate, as usual).
The rebel fleet may be doomed unless Finn (John Boyega) and fellow rebel Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) find a computer hacker (Benicio Del Toro) capable of breaking into the imperial command ship’s firewall.
The details of this mission are less important than the friendship that develops between Finn and Rose. It’s in keeping with the larger purpose of The Last Jedi, which is to make diversity both a franchise goal and an important story theme. The rebel alliance (also known as the Resistance) is a rainbow coalition, and Star Wars — and here my personal bias may be showing — is now as diverse as Star Trek was 50 years ago.
Here, though, women get to run things. Leia — whose trusted lieutenant is played by Laura Dern — is in charge of the rebels, and the future of all that good rests in the spunky heart of Rey, who has made contact with Luke, and is trying to grasp the riddle of his exile and his disenchantment with the Jedi religion. These scenes benefit from the fact that Hamill has become a more seasoned performer over the years, able to project the gravitas required of his character.
Rey needs all the help she can get — all signs point toward a showdown with Kylo and Snoke, just as the battle between imperial forces and the rebel forces reach its decisive moment.
Rey is strong, perhaps as strong as Kylo, but she is impetuous, and even with the best of intentions and the force on her side, we know the treachery and power of dark-side wizardry. There is always the possibility that Snoke gets in her eyes.
Perhaps that’s why they are watering so much. Hamill, Driver, Ridley — their lids brim with tears in half the movie, which wavers between operatic seriousness and wisecracks. Some of these are funny, but for people who lived a long time ago in a galaxy far away, they sure use a lot of anachronistic earth slang (After an explosion: “That ship is toast!”).
Aside from that, the Johnson and Abrams movies live dutifully in the universe of the original George Lucas trilogy — after the Phantom Menace trilogy debacle, it’s what fans claim they wanted.
More of the spirit of the original, and if you don’t mind, George, more of the original characters.
But there is the risk of diminishing returns. These sequels trade directly on the emotional legacy of the originals (The Last Jedi makes some leaps into sentimental hyperspace, particularly in the way that it handles Fisher on-screen), and the more of the aged Luke and Leia we see, the more we chip away at the mythic power of characters as Lucas left them: Young, strong, immortal.
MOVIES Star Wars: The Last Jedi Directed by Rian Johnson. With Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Adam Driver. Distributed by Disney. Parents guide: PG-13 (sci-fi violence) Running time: 2 hours, 32 mins. Playing at: Area theaters