‘The Last Jedi’ is a space-epic for the ages

Joshua Lloyd, A&E Editor

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     In case you missed the closing moments of “Episode VII,” newbie Force-user Rey was left standing at the top of some forgotten island, hoping that Luke Skywalker would take his beat-up old lightsaber and restore justice to the galaxy (again). Han Solo’s gone, the First Order is on the rise and the future looks bleak, but surely a living legend with the Force at his fingertips can fix things, right?

     So begins “The Last Jedi,” the biggest and possibly the most epic “Star Wars” chapter yet. Fresh off blasting the New Republic into oblivion, the First Order has only one threat left to snuff out: those pesky rebel scum, the Resistance freedom fighters, who are literally running on fumes as they try to shake a fleet of First Order capital ships.

     To save the Resistance’s ass, ex-stormtrooper and endearing everyman Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran, stellar) come up with a plan so crazy, Han Solo would applaud them from somewhere in the great beyond.

     That’s not even the half of it. A galaxy away, Rey’s trying to convince Mr. New Hope to return to the front lines, but Darth Vader’s baby boy wants nothing to do with anything Jedi-related. At all. Rather than rage against the dying of the light, Luke (Mark Hamill) seems more than ready to let old things crumble into dust. “It’s time for the Jedi to end,” he mutters. Say it ain’t so, kid.

     The casting here is all-around aces. Oscar Isaac is back to tear it up as Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s resident hothead pilot, whose suit-snubbing attitude doesn’t sit too well with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern in top form). “You’re impulsive, dangerous and the last thing we need right now,” she says to Poe with cutting simplicity. Score one for authority.

     Carrie Fisher remains the driving force of the Resistance in her last round as General Leia Organa. It’ll be a rough go watching “Episode IX” without the Princess.

     Benicio del Toro (superb as ever) is DJ, a thief and hacker who thrives in the gray area of galactic law.

     Adam Driver returns as fallen son Kylo Ren, almost foaming at the mouth with rage. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in all his mocap glory) thinks Ren’s balls dropped off after dispatching his dad, leaving Kylo with a lot to prove. He gets a pretty good start by bashing his rip-off Vader helmet to splinters.

     Daisy Ridley is back in the role that made her a star. Here, she cements her legacy. Rey is a real-deal spitfire, a beacon of hope for a new generation of Force-users (“Jedi” might be a bit of a stretch for now) and the one who breathes new life into the embattled Resistance. Will she make it through “Episode IX” without falling for bad boy Kylo’s promises of dark-side power? Too soon to call, but props to Ridley for making the whole damn world want to find out.

     No one steals a scene from Hamill, though. In his fifth go at the role, he’s a picture of guilt, weighed down almost to the point of despair. “I came to this island to die,” he tells a disappointed Rey. But maybe, just maybe, that farm boy who used to bullseye womp-rats and hang out at Tosche station is still in there somewhere.

     Equally impressive are Rian Johnson and company, who packed this beast of a film to carrying capacity while keeping the plot from spinning too far into hyperspace. Several previously-unexplored locales, a host of fresh faces and a few mind-bending dives into the Force add layers upon layers of new “Star Wars” depth. Ben Kenobi put it in simpler terms, but it’s a bigger, wilder galaxy now and everyone is treading a thin line between light and darkness. Eventually, they’ll have to choose which way to fall.

     As usual, the visual effects, score and sound editing are more than Oscar-worthy. With four nominations this time around, maybe a win or two would make up for the “The Force Awakens” getting totally snubbed at the 2016 festivities.

      Admittedly, the subplots can get a little tiring and hardcore fans will be quick to dismiss some of the slapdash comedy. But the climactic clash between Luke and Kylo Ren, a standoff forty years in the making, is well worth the very long wait.

     By the end of “Episode VIII,” the story could literally go anywhere. Doesn’t matter; it’s gonna be a hell of a ride regardless.  

 

“The Last Jedi” does what “The Empire Strikes Back” did almost forty years ago: throws the good guys into a desperate situation and sets the stage for a climactic final showdown.

 

Daisy Ridley returns in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”as Rey, the new hope for the nearly-extinct Jedi Order.