Star Wars:  The Last Jedi

 

            The eighth chapter is a winner.  Even if you're not a fan of the whole series, this one stands on its own just enough.

            “A long time ago, in a galaxy far away...” the First Order has the whole galaxy in its tyrannical grip.  Their Supreme Leader, Snoke (Andy Serkis) has mastered the Dark Side of The Force, and has recruited Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as his nefarious apprentice.  Together, they are seeking to snuff out the last of old Jedi order (think of knights still considering the sword a noble weapon in the new era of muskets), represented by an old teacher in hiding, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and a determined young woman who wants to be his apprentice, Rey (Daisy Ridley).  But Luke is unwilling.  He's old, he's tired, and he's disappointed, because Kylo Ren was his former apprentice who turned on him.

            The First Order's military might is considerable, and there remains only a small contingent of rebels who continue to resist them, including their long-time leader, Leia (Carrie Fisher).  But the resistance receives some unexpected help, and though clearly outnumbered and out gunned, they continue in their valiant fight to restore the galaxy to its former democratic republic.

            By now, the “Star Wars” series has taken on a life of its own, and certain typical characteristics abound in this film:  we see creative new creatures.  (But we don't see too much of them.) Add a little humor to offset the heaviness of the combat scenes. Spaceships in dogfights, soaring above a ground battle that curiously resembles World War One trench warfare.  Swordfights with light sabers.  And yes, the mysterious Force, which is the creative energy that holds together the universe.  Certain gifted people are able to channel this energy and do extraordinary things with it, like defy gravity.  And sometimes the gift is hereditary;  sometimes not.  But always, there is the internal struggle of whether these special gifts are going to be used selfishly, for personal gain, or for the good of the whole.  And within almost everyone involved, there is ambibalence.  And acting impulsively.  And making mistakes.  And struggles with controlling emotion.  Above all, there's a certain whimsical charm to the whole enterprise, and that's what really captures the imagination of its legions of fans.

            Daisy Ridley is a great choice in the lead role, in her mesmerizing portrayal of the conflicted apprentice.  Adam Driver convincingly chills us with his anger and ambition, and still we wonder:  are even his gentle moments manipulative?  Andy Serkis personifies the villain we love to hate.  The secondary characters are well-represented, and suffer their own defeats and triumphs.  But it's really poignant to see Carrie Fisher lend such gravitas to her role as the veteran beleaguered leader, because all these scenes were shot just before she died.  This film is dedicated to her memory.

            Most endearingly of all, we have a hopeful ending.  The rebels are glamorized and idolized, inspiring a new generation of devotees, and they are the future of The Force.  Yes, we are all looking forward to the next chapter.  Until then, may The Force be with you.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association