‘The Last Jedi’ keeps ‘Star Wars’ sky-high

For those who worry that the “Star Wars” franchise never will again produce something on the order of the first thrilling films, there’s good news: “The Last Jedi” sure comes close.

Of course, after 40 years, we know so much about the series that it never can be a novelty on quite the same level again, but here’s to writer-director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) for being smart enough to incorporate cherished “Star Wars’’ themes while beefing up newer characters that were introduced by “The Force Awakens.”

One of those characters provides a major plot line of “The Last Jedi,” as Rey – played again by Daisy Ridley – wants to learn the Jedi ways from the rediscovered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, of course), just as he did from Yoda. That’s the story that really has the most impact here, though John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron also are back and largely get their own tales.


Daisy Ridley in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

Though it’s a tad disappointing at first that they’re all separated this time, it’s clever from a series development standpoint in setting things up for the future. Each of them is fleshed out in a way that probably wouldn’t be possible if they were on the same exact turf again; such a set-up has precedence in the “Star Wars” canon, with early sequences of “The Empire Strikes Back” also standing out in that way.

Still, there is enough of the past here, too. That applies very specifically in the case of the late Carrie Fisher, whose appearance is bittersweet, given the knowledge that this is the last of her performances as princess turned general Leia.

It’s just one example of the emotion that is quite present in “The Last Jedi,” automatically separating this chapter from many others in the franchise. And it’s also what made it a wise decision to put fresh eyes on it, namely Johnson’s. Certainly, it’s a gamble to place the tried and true in different hands, as was the situation with J.J. Abrams on “The Force Awakens.”

Some devotees felt he played it too safe, but Johnson is willing to take big leaps forward. Not only should he be applauded, but so should Disney and Lucasfilm Ltd., since they also had to sign off and hold their collective breath when it came to tinkering with the “family recipe.” The payoff has proven to be worth it.

Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro and creatures called Porgs are among the newcomers, but in the end, it’s what and who we already know – and the new discoveries we’re allowed to make about them — that cements “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” as a welcome addition to a galaxy that now seems a little less far away.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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