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Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A review of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the latest entry in the massive franchise.

Photo © 2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Within pop culture, the creations that inspire endless devotion often are those with the strongest senses of place.

Harry Potter isn’t the star of his sprawling universe — Hogwarts is. Indiana Jones would not be Indiana Jones if he didn’t ramble to hidden corners of the world to discover unseen treasures. Even the “Jurassic Park” series cannot get by on dinosaurs alone — those films (the good ones, anyway) need the isolated exotica of the island parks to set the mood.

And the “Star Wars” series is at its strongest when it shows the audience an intergalactic array of wonders. Strange creatures, compelling characters, bizarre planets, mysterious cities: These are the core of the franchise’s appeal.

If there’s a halfway decent story on top, so much the better.

“The Last Jedi,” officially the eighth film in the series’ central chronology, places its characters and tales within the “Star Wars” universe more effectively — and more enchantingly — than any film in the franchise since “Return of the Jedi.” It was the job of “The Force Awakens” to regain our trust; now that that’s done, “The Last Jedi” is here to reward us.

When last we left our two generations of heroes ... well, there was a lot going on. The resistance, a ragtag group of fighters carrying on the legacy of the rebels we met in the original trilogy, had dealt some significant blows to the evil First Order, destroying their new super-weapon — but leaving their leadership intact. Rey (Daisy Ridley) had successfully tracked down Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) had murdered his father, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), refusing to reject the influence of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Rebel dynamic duo Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) were emerging as new leaders of the resistance, under the command of General Leia (Carrie Fisher).

And a rolling droid named BB-8 had captured our hearts. (He’s still charming in “The Last Jedi,” if you had any doubt.)

After all that, the First Order is mad. Downright furious. At the onset of “The Last Jedi,” they have the resistance confined to a few ships and very much on the run. Without giving anything of substance away — I am well aware that any spoilers I include here will lead directly to someone chucking a stormtrooper helmet at my head the next time I appear in public — the film jumps between three threads. Two concern the resistance’s attempts to evade and escape the pursuing First Order; the third follows Rey and Luke on the planet Ahch-To.

Those three branches provide the suspense, the fun and the heart of “The Last Jedi,” respectively. It is the latter that most people will remember — Ridley, Driver and Hamill provide a depth of emotion rarely seen in the series — but I found myself most impressed with the more adventurous and rambunctious of the film’s sequences. There are stretches of “The Last Jedi” which quite effectively capture the feeling of the original trilogy (and of 1970s and ’80s adventure generally) in a way that even “The Force Awakens” and last year’s “Rogue One” could not.

“The Last Jedi” also marks more of an ascendance for the series’ central quartet of young performers. Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and more are still here, of course. This is the film, however, where they begin to cede the spotlight more fully to Rey, Kylo Ren, Finn and Poe. At the end of “The Force Awakens,” Ridley and Driver were newcomers worthy of standing alongside the veterans; by the end of “The Last Jedi,” they are the stars. (Some new additions to the series — including characters played by Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Kellie Marie Tran and Veronica Ngo — shine as well.)

Is it perfect? Not quite; a few of the plot developments feel a bit forced, and some of the humor (while surprisingly funny) feels a bit out-of-place, as the tone of the franchise shifts subtly toward the subversive expectation-breaking of the Marvel Studios films. But this new “Star Wars” trilogy is not about perfection; it is about restoring and expanding the universe, giving new life to the characters and creatures within it and telling stories worthy of fans’ considerable devotion.

On those accounts — and many more — “The Last Jedi” succeeds.

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