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Monday, January 22, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

Friday, December 29, 2017 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

The very title, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” is a teaser. No spoiler alert here, but, whether you’re an intense fan or casual fan of “Star Wars,” be prepared to be moved by the latest in what is the greatest science-fiction movie franchise on the planet.

“The Last Jedi” hits all the tropes in a multi-generational, ethnically-diverse and multiple-storyline movie that not only has spectacular space battle sequences (the opening sequence is textbook phenomenal) and exciting martial arts scenes, but also moments of engaging dialogue, and often-lengthy shots of key characters in repose or contemplation.

“Star Wars” always was and is about a higher power, “The Force,” a quest for our better selves, a search to remain on the side of the angels. That essential conflict, symbolized by Darth Vader, who went over to “the dark side,” is represented again in “The Last Jedi” by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

“Stars Wars” takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” as the opening-credit crawl tells us. More precisely, the movie franchise began 40 years ago with the release of “Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977), followed by “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983).

The prequel trilogy is “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999), “Episode II: Attack of the Clones” (2002), and “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005).

The sequel trilogy is “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015), “Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017), and “Episode IX,” as yet untitled (2019).

There are also anthology films: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018).

These are the theatrical motion picture releases, not to mention TV shows, video games and the like.

“The Last Jedi” has a gravitas that goes beyond the movie screen because it represents what is probably the last appearance in a full-fledged role of Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. Fisher died Dec. 27, 2016. Her scenes seems to carry extra import, no more so than those with Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker). When once they were young and as antsy as teen-agers, they are now wizened, sagacious and ruminative.

If Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher represent the elderly statesmen, then Adam Driver (Kylo Ren), Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Oscar Isaac (Poe Dameron), Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico), and Domhnall Gleeson (General Hux) represent the next generation, the Millenialists (No small irony here with respect to the name of the Millennium Falcon spaceship.).

The cast includes Andy Serkis (Snoke), Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Holdo), Benicio Del Toro (DJ), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Jimmy Vee (R2-D2), Joonas Suotamo (Chewbacca), and Frank Oz (voice, Yoda).

Some of the characters’ appearances are not much more than cameos, not unlike Mickey Mouse showing up at breakfast in the Contemporary Hotel at Disney World.

“Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” (its full title) is directed by Rian Johnson (director-screenwriter, “Looper,” 2012; “The Brothers Bloom,” 2008, “Brick,” 2005). Johnson wrote “The Last Jedi” screenplay based on characters created by George Lucas. It’s the second in what’s called the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, which began with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).

Johnson stays true to the “Star Wars” characters, mythology, and humor. Johnson is apparently the announced director of the third movie in the trilogy, “Star Wars: Episode IX,” scheduled for release in December 2019.

Composer John Williams is back to score the “The Last Jedi.”

Setting aside the hype, the anticipation of seeing “The Last Jedi” is palpable, even to making sure seats were reserved for a later evening screening because the earlier evening screening was sold out. The movie was seen in the 3-D format for this review. I am not sure it’s necessary. The movie is also being shown in the Imax format but not, at least as I could determine in the Lehigh Valley, in Imax 3-D.

After seeing “The Last Jedi,” Michael “Movie Maven” Gontkosky and I sat in the movie theater lobby to discuss the movie. Michael later texted me some interesting points about “The Last Jedi” and the “Star Wars” franchise: “The ‘Star Wars’ films are epic film-making on an intimate level.” Well-said.

“Above all, the ‘Star Wars’ films are fun. Like a roller-coaster ride.

”Further,” Michael texted, “It’s movie escapism at its best and highest level of cinema connectivity with fellow audience members. It’s a shared group experience.

“They are very human films at their heart,” Michael continued. “It goes way beyond science-fiction, and taps into the collective subconscious of what it is to be human. It works on that principal, which connects many people.”

“The Last Jedi,” you see, is just the beginning.

May The Force be with you.

“Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.; Genre: Action, Fantasy, Science-Fiction; Run time: 2 hrs., 32 mins. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonynous: The “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” end credits state: “In loving memory of our Princess, Carrie Fisher.”

Box Office: Dec. 22 weekend box office results were unavailable because of the early Focus deadline for the Christmas holiday.

Unreel, Dec. 29:

“All the Money in the World,” R: Ridley Scott directs Mark Wahlberg, Michelle Williams, and Christopher Plummer in the Crime-Drama based on the true story about the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the efforts to get the ransom paid by his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty.

“Molly’s Game,” R: Aaron Sorkin directs Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner, and Michael Cera in the Biography-Drama based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran a high-stakes poker game.

“Phantom Thread,” R: Paul Thomas Anderson directs Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, and Sue Clark about a dressmaker in 1950s’ London and how he found his muse.

Four Popcorn Boxes Out of Five Popcorn Boxes