Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★½

"Strike me down in anger and I'll always be with you. Just like your father." ~ Luke Skywalker

Bottom line up front: Star Wars Episode VIII delivers on the promise of extending the franchise. It does so with homage to past installments and a fine array of newly developing characters. And much like its immediate predecessor released in 2015, it continues to raise the bar on special effects. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly of the film as I saw it:

When it's good, it's terrific. - Specifically, Daisy Ridley as Rey becomes the central character, learning to use the force and then applying it with awesome results. Her battle against Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and then Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is beautifully choreographed -- no wasted action, great editing. However, it's her face off with the landslide of boulders that got applause from the audience and marked her true "coming of age" as a Jedi warrior. Mark Hamill returned to form, too, and his internal struggles were certainly the key to what makes this a cut above most space operas. I loved his battle with Ren and how it was concluded. Also appreciated the cameo by Yoda (Frank Oz), who hasn't aged a bit. And of course Snoke deserves a salute, too -- much more involved this time. Plus, an honorable mention goes to Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo -- her hidden strategy was nicely played and that jump to light-speed was epic stuff.

When it's bad, it's still okay. - Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) roasting the puffin-like creatures called "porgs" for dinner was in bad taste (pun intended), but it was still a really funny scene. I was somewhat ambivalent about Kelly Marie Tran as teary-eyed Rose Tico, but her initial taser work and the much later kiss scene kinda won me over. Benicio Del Toro's portrayal of the codebreaker called DJ almost works, although I think he pushed the self-interest button one too many times. Similarly, Oscar Isaac, whose humor is his saving grace as rebel commander Poe Dameron, is a bit too much of a cowboy (think Han Solo without filters). And John Boyega as Finn still didn't step up as strongly as I thought he would, but maybe he's being held back for Episode IX (I hope).

When it's ugly, it's cringeworthy. - Sorry, but Carrie Fisher's General Leia Organa could have been played by a sack of potatoes; she was at her best when in a coma. Also worthy of a Razzie is Domhnall Gleeson as the wussy General Hux. And Lupita Nyong'o as the nearly invisible Maz Kanata -- was she really in this? An incredible under-use of beauty and talent. Then there's the recycling of military stuff like bombing the weak spot on the First Order’s greatest starship, the Siege Dreadnought Fulminatrix; the nothing-new dogfights between rebel X-wings and the stormtroopers' TIE fighters; and the "let's stall and buy time" ploy used in three different sequences here. Oi vey! And don't get me started on R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee) replaying the original hologram message from Episode IV; or the upgrading of the AT-AT Walkers we thought were obsolete; or the latest in ridiculous “unbeatable” superweapons, the Battering Ram Cannon, which has a range of only a few hundred yards. Oh, and don't neglect the fish-faced new species called Caretakers, good only for laughs; or the casino-based city of Canto Bight, good only for destroying; and the gigantic fathier creatures, good only for racing or escapes, but still more useful than the fox-like crystalline vulptexs, good for nothing, really.

If writer-director Rian Johnson deserves major props, it's for holding all this together somehow and following the arc set by J.J. Abrams in Episode VII, which brought considerably more yin energy to the franchise. Even the male-dominated First Order gets a female baddie, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and early on we see the heroism (heroine-ism?) of Rose's sister, rebel bomber technician Paige Tico (Veronica Ngo). In a year that brought us "Atomic Blonde" and "Wonder Woman," this is a fitting chapter to close on. Earth girls kick butt, and Jedi girls kick it intergalactically.

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