"STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI" — 3½ stars — Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern, Adam Driver, John Boyega; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action and violence); in general release
Like 2015’s “The Force Awakens," “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is custom-made for longtime fans of George Lucas’ galaxy far, far, away, and at times it feels like director Rian Johnson’s primary goal is to give fans the maximum Star Wars for their money. At 152 minutes, “Last Jedi” is the longest film in the franchise to date, and though it isn’t perfect, it’s packed with sci-fi action, humor, drama and answers to the questions fans have been asking for the last two years.
(Be assured, Star Wars fans: The following will only contain minimal spoilers.)
“Last Jedi” picks up where “Force Awakens” left off, as Jedi hopeful Rey (Daisy Ridley) had finally tracked down long-lost Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). As the film opens, Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) and his juggernaut First Order (essentially The Galactic Empire 2.0) are on the verge of wiping out the fledgling Resistance (Rebel Alliance 2.0), which is led by the erstwhile Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher, in a final role that carries tremendous emotional weight).
The plot is split between three threads. In the first, the last surviving Resistance ships are racing against time and a depleted fuel reserve to evade the New Order’s fleet, which can now track them through hyperspace. On board the Resistance command ship, hotshot fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is clashing with interim Resistance leader Holdo (Laura Dern), who is called to spell Leia after she is injured during an early escape.
In order to shake Snoke and his right-hand “child in a mask” — Snoke’s words — Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), thread No. 2 follows ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a Resistance fighter named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who set off in search of a hacker who can disable the New Order’s tracker long enough for the Resistance to escape.
In the meantime, Rey is busy trying to convince Luke to come out of retirement and save the Resistance. Still traumatized by his failure with ex-Jedi trainee Kylo Ren and disturbed by the growing power he sees in Rey, Luke tries to pull an anti-Yoda by convincing Rey that the Jedi need to go the way of the intergalactic Dodo.
This is all merely the setup for a story that rolls well beyond the resolution of these early threads, weaves in a few surprising twists and sets the stage for the third installment of the franchise, which is scheduled for 2019. Along the way, there are many echoes from the earlier films, especially “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” but for anyone who justifiably criticized “Force Awakens” for being a soft reboot of 1977’s “A New Hope,” “Last Jedi” won’t feel like a rehash.
At the same time, it does take a while for “Last Jedi” to get up to speed. Some of the humor feels a little distracting and the lengthy final product suggests a tighter execution might have felt more resonant. Still, “Last Jedi” delivers two or three cheer-worthy moments late in the film that will remind fans why they’ve loved this franchise for so long, and, ultimately, the sprawling story may be justified by a plot that features more surprises than a normal Star Wars outing.
Altogether, the franchise is on track and in good hands, maintaining the spirit of a series that was reclaimed by “Force Awakens” after faltering through the prequels. Thanks to the nature of Star Wars fandom, Johnson’s effort will be picked apart online down to its fundamental pieces, so there’s no use in getting into any such minutiae here. Bottom line: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” may not be the best installment in the now 40-year-old franchise, but it packs enough action and surprises to keep fans happy through the Christmas season and beyond.
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence; running time: 152 minutes.