Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleeson, Billie Lourd, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Lupita Nyong'o, Joonas Suotamo, Veronica Ngo, Anthony Daniels
Written by: Rian Johnson, based on characters created by George Lucas
Directed by: Rian Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Running Time: 152
Date: 12/14/2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Good Luke Charms

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If the new trilogy of Star Wars sequels is deliberately mirroring the original (1977-1983) trilogy, then Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the Empire Strikes Back of the current series, even better than its predecessor, and one of the best yet.

The new film, the eighth in George Lucas's proposed nine-film storyline, opens everywhere on Friday.

Taking the helm this time is Rian Johnson, whose high school detective movie Brick (2006) was one of the best debut features of recent years.

His Looper (2012) was a smart time-travel thriller, and he directed three episodes of Breaking Bad. He's ready for this.

Certainly J.J. Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) was more than satisfying, but Johnson steps it up several notches, digging deeper into characters, and even adding nuance to the entire Star Wars mythos.

In this film, it's no longer as simple as good guys fighting bad guys, or The Force being the exclusive property of the Jedi, although Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the one to argue that point.

Like The Empire Strikes Back, The Last Jedi splits into sections, one involving a spiritual quest, and the other involving an exciting chase and/or escape.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke but is shocked to realize that he's reluctant to leave his sanctuary or help in any way. But he has his reasons, and they are rather fascinating.

Keeping Luke company are the adorable little penguin/owl-like creatures, the "Porg," which will likely appear under many Christmas trees this year. They are funny, and nowhere near as cloying as Ewoks.

Elsewhere, the First Order, led by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who bicker like brothers, have found the location of the rebels and attack mercilessly.

In order to escape, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) must break into the First Order flagship and shut down a tracking device. This requires outside help from an expert codebreaker, a terrific new character.

Another delightful newcomer, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), accompanies Finn on this mission.

Running a whopping 152 minutes, but never flagging, The Last Jedi spends more time on characters that were marginal in the previous movie. The late, beloved Carrie Fisher gets plenty of screen time and a thoughtful character arc as General Leia Organa; it's a fitting farewell.

Kylo Ren, once teased for being too much like an emotional, tantrum-throwing teen, is also more relatable.

But aside from stronger emotional connections, the movie is also quite knowing and funny. Poe Dameron starts things off with a belly laugh, and even Chewbacca gets a couple of chuckles.

Return viewers will notice sly little references to things like Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Altman's The Long Goodbye (on which Star Wars composer John Williams also worked), and even the homemade spoof Hardware Wars.

It's a whirlwind of stuff both new and going back forty years: laughter, emotion, joy, shock, awe, tingles, ideas, characters we love and characters we are learning to love. Star Wars is why so many people were drawn to movies, and thanks to Johnson, it can happen again.

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