By Laurie Coker
Keeping pace with a giant is no easy task and saying that the Star Wars franchise is a giant underestimates it. Watching the most recent in the series – Star Wars: The Last Jedi – not only demonstrates how far movie-making has come, it further seats George Lucas as the master of sci-fi illusion so many years ago. Last Jedi demonstrates CGI imagery at its finest, but it also allows us to reflect on what Lucas did to achieve with models and puppetry. In the hands of Disney and writer-director Rian Johnson, the world first imagined decades ago soars.
Perhaps one of the best in the series, especially since the 1980s, The Last Jedi moves at a brisk pace (mostly) and will please hardcore fans and a new generation of viewers. Johnson stays true to his characters new and old and excites with exceptional visuals. Mark Hamill makes his much-anticipated return as Luck Skywalker – this time as the mentor and far more grumpy and craggy than his predecessor, Obi-Wan. Reluctantly, Luke helps Rey (Daisy Ridley) who finds herself in a mental tug-o-war with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), with whom she has an inexplicable bond – pitting them against one another in a battle of good versus evil. Ridley and Driver are solid in their roles and interesting and exciting additions to the saga. Driver’s, Kylo Ren broods beautifully and battles brilliantly with Rey – perfectly paced, dancelike sequences with the crimson red henchmen of the sinister Snoke.
Visually the film stuns, sequences of spectacular spaceships and exceptionally envisioned planets and locales ignite the imagination. We have come so far since the awkward, clumsy sci-fi space renderings of the past. The Last Jedi basically follows two plots that eventually merge – one beyond that of Rey and Kylo Ren sends Finn (John Boyega) and a new addition to the franchise, a spunky gal named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) go out on a mission that takes them to a Las Vegas-style city where they seek out a code-cracker. Johnson’s casino-world, filled with creative and wild characters, enchants. Here we meet for D.J a thief and con man played delightfully by Benicio Del Toro, who steals, not only everything he can lay hand to but his scenes as well.
The longest of in the series, Last Jedi spans 152 minutes of run time and only bogs down momentarily when scenes between Luke and Rey drag a bit. Still, they are necessary to the story and its twists and turns. Oscar Isaac’s Poe keeps things moving along with the always adorable BB-8, and of course, C3PO and R2D2 bring delight. Carrie Fisher, in the last role before her death, breathes essential life into Leia – although she notably appears to pass the baton to Vice Admiral Holdo, played with chilly easy by Laura Dern. The Force Awakens stood firmly on nostalgia, and The Last Jedi builds on the momentum fueled by J.J. Abrams’ final scene –as Rey silently pleads with Luke to return and make everything better. She extends a lightsaber and Johnson grabs hold taking his audience on a monumental, warp-speed ride across galaxies and over planets – through the familiar and the awe-inspiring.
Watching in IMAX or on a large, bowed screen makes Star Wars: The Last Jedi an even more remarkable experience. Somehow, the sheer magnitude of curved screen projection enhances images of space. It takes a giant of a film to successfully engage for nearly two and a half hours and Star-Wars: The Last Jedi is enormous! It does not quite nail perfect, but not since the originals back in the 1980s has a Star Wars film been so utterly enchanting. It earns an A- in the grade book.