Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★★

After the sensory overload of the first viewing, and the discovery of its big twists and turns, I let my attention zigzag all over the place the second time around, and I found it surprisingly satisfying and even, at times, genuinely moving.

I'm impressed with Rian Johnson's storytelling sensibilities here, by his serious reconsideration of the Star Wars universe's glorification of "maverick" heroes, by the way he enriches our understanding of "the Force," and by his willingness to celebrate and reconcile this galaxy's silliest and most serious inclinations in a movie that somehow holds together. It's like the Millennium Falcon that way — awkward looking, asymmetrical, alive with a thousand moving pieces, prone to sporadic (and even embarrassing) breakdowns, and yet full of thrilling surprises when we need them most.

This isn't just a crowdpleaser. In fact, it takes real risks. Johnson avoids wallowing in nostalgia — if he revisits familiar scenarios, he does so purposefully in order to play with our expectations and introduce surprising new storytelling possibilities that enrich, instead of diluting, what has come before. Both times I've seen it, I had long, complicated conversations with enthusiastic moviegoers afterward, and we agreed that we can't wait to go back for more. Softspoken spiritual reflections, grandiose battle scenes, wildly frivolous characters and creatures — everything I love about Star Wars is served up here in generous portions, and presented with some of the series' most aesthetically astonishing widescreen imagery.

So I don't have the patience for the complaints I'm hearing. Yes, I noticed some contradictions here and there, but they seemed like the kinds of rough edges and malfunctions that Star Wars fans became accustomed to suffering in the original trilogy. If you require Lucas's cosmos to hold up to rigorous critical scrutiny in the way that Tolkien's encyclopedically coherent Lord of the Rings saga does, well, you should have jumped ship a long time ago. (Let's face it — Star Wars is a story about refraining from violence that is popular because of the way it goes on staging extravagant violence. It's bound to contradict itself.)

This is big, obvious, consumer-ready popcorn moviemaking that — thanks to the imagination, artistry, and courage of this remarkable director — aspires to transcend its genre conventions to achieve a measure of profundity... and it succeeds. This movie is so much richer than the button-pushing crowdpleaser that preceded it. Hold it up next to almost any other fantasy-franchise installment current or recent, and nothing comes close... not even Harry Potter. This is the kind of storytelling potential I've been waiting for Star Wars to recapture since 1980. It's been a long, long wait.

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