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  • by Jeff Beck

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: A Grand Step Forward for the Franchise

Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Upon the release of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I was moderately excited for a new film in the franchise after the decade-long absence. I’m a fan of the series for the most part, having liked almost all of the films, so a new trilogy under a new studio and different writers/directors sounded like it could be something special. While I enjoyed Abrams’ film enough, there wasn’t really any getting around the fact that he had basically remade “A New Hope” with some new characters thrown in. However, at the very least, it freed up the franchise and opened the door to allow writer/director Rian Johnson to take it in any number of new directions, which brings us to the latest entry in the main saga: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a big, bold installment that just might be the most ambitious film of the series yet.

The film opens as the Rebels are fleeing their base in a desperate attempt to escape the First Order. Thanks to some risky maneuvers from Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), in direct violation of General Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) orders, the Rebels are able to get away. However, their victory is cut short upon discovering that the First Order has somehow managed to find a way to track them even in lightspeed, putting them in another dire situation that has them short on fuel and ships, with the enemy closing in. In a last-ditch effort to get away, Finn (John Boyega) and his new friend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) go on a mission to knock out the First Order’s tracker, but first, they must locate a master codebreaker in order to get aboard the enemy ship without being noticed.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and tries to explain to him everything that has happened. Unfortunately, Luke is now of the mind that he can’t help them and that the Jedi should be allowed to end, but luckily Rey is quite persistent, eventually leading Luke to at least give her a few lessons in regards to The Force. During her stay on the island, she begins to have telepathic communications with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), leading her to believe that there just might be another way to end the Rebels’ struggles if Luke should remain in his current mindset. With the First Order continuing to close in on the last of the resistance, our heroes must once again put everything on the line in order to try and return peace to the galaxy.

As I mentioned, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Abrams’ film was a letdown, but it was a little disappointing to find that it had a distinct lack of originality, practically following “Episode IV” beat-for-beat. However, when it was announced that Rian Johnson, the man behind such fascinating projects as “Looper,” “The Brothers Bloom,” and “Brick,” would be handling the next film in the main saga, the only thing I could think was that this is exactly what the series needs: a breath of fresh air, someone to give it the heaping dose of originality that it needed to truly stand out. With the release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I’m very glad to say that that’s exactly what we get.

Somehow Johnson has managed to take a large ensemble cast of characters and give each of them their due as he weaves multiple thrilling and engrossing storylines together. I suppose a fair comparison would be Joss Whedon and his “Avengers” films, but in this case, it’s even more complex thanks to having multiple characters in different locations throughout the film, on top of having more intricate plots. From this, one would assume that Johnson must have done it before, but when you remember his rather humble works before this, the accomplishment becomes even more impressive.

Not only has Johnson given the saga a good dose of originality, but he’s also thrown in a good smattering of humor as well. That’s not to say that Abrams’ film didn’t have its comedic moments, but with “The Last Jedi,” Johnson really gives you a number of good moments to laugh at, sometimes completely out of the blue or in the middle of a supposedly serious scene. This is not to mention the multiple thrilling action scenes that are strategically placed throughout the film, sequences which never becoming monotonous and always add to the story instead of just being thrown in for the hell of it as some films like to do.

However, what’s perhaps most important is that Johnson has shown that he understands these characters and cares deeply about them, demonstrated through his emotionally-rich narratives that treat the characters reverently. There may be a few directions the film goes in that hard-core fans won’t like, but it’s a film that takes risks, instead of playing it mundanely safe like “The Force Awakens” did. What Johnson has done here is incredibly ambitious, and it’s paid off with the best “Star Wars” film in a long time, one that shows that there is quite a lot of potential ahead for “Episode IX” (that is, if Chris Terrio doesn’t completely ruin it like he did “Justice League”). It’s a shame that Johnson couldn’t simply move on to the next installment, but given that he’s now working on his very own trilogy, there’s more than enough reason to be excited for what’s to come. Simply put, “The Last Jedi” is a grand step forward, one that we can only hope will light the way for the franchise’s future. 3.5/4 stars.

Now playing in theaters everywhere.

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