If “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was considered a “requel” — part remake, part sequel — of “A New Hope,” think of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” as “The First Order Strikes Back.”
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) isn’t frozen in carbonite or anything. No one camps out in a tauntaun. But while it’s subtle, the thrilling new movie definitely hits several of the same thematic drumbeats as the original trilogy’s second installment.
Picking up shortly after the events of “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” finds The Resistance in disarray. The First Order locates their base and has what’s left of the Rebels on the run as they search for a new home aboard a cruiser that’s quickly running out of fuel.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is still reeling after not being able to keep his nephew — Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) — from turning to the Dark Side. And Rey (Daisy Ridley) gets a sense of how he’s been spending his self-imposed exile on, for lack of press notes, let’s call it Jedi Island. This mostly consists of spearfishing for big, weird-looking critters; milking the teats of bigger, weirder-looking critters; and putting up with the Porgs, those tiny, birdlike creatures that immediately drew the wrath of many fans thanks to their overpowering cuteness.
While Rey is off trying to convince Luke to help her save the galaxy, Finn (John Boyega) sets out with Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker with a serious case of hero worship for him, to try a different approach.
And Poe continues to find his way as a leader while sticking close to General Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) and the remaining Rebels. (Speaking of Poe, honestly, all any of us can ever hope for is to have someone look at us the way he looks at BB-8.)
“The Last Jedi” is the first of the “Star Wars” saga — not counting last year’s spinoff, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — with neither George Lucas nor Lawrence Kasdan as a screenwriter. It also can’t rely on the crush of nostalgia over seeing so many beloved characters for the first time in more than 30 years that helped fans — and critics — overlook some of the shortcomings of “The Force Awakens.” That’s why it’s all the more impressive that writer-director Rian Johnson (“Looper”) was able to deliver something so very satisfying.
For a while, though, that was most definitely in doubt.
After an action-packed introduction that further explores the snarkier side of Poe, “The Last Jedi” slows to an almost methodical pace. I’ll admit, for a while I was worried. But with one fight sequence — you’ll know it when you see it — Johnson flips the switch on the hyperdrive, and the remaining 40 minutes or so are overflowing with ball-shaped-droids-to-the-wall action.
Some of it is so beautifully staged, I couldn’t help but stare, gape-mawed. And there’s a very good chance you’ll need a new manicure after so much time spent tightly clutching the armrests.
“The Last Jedi” is tinged with sadness and questions of what might have been whenever Fisher is onscreen. Thankfully, her role is beefed up from “The Force Awakens,” including a scene that just may be the coolest Leia’s ever been.
There are a couple of big names that fail to deliver much aside from, perhaps, realizing their childhood dreams of being in a “Star Wars” movie. A trip to a city that might as well be called Space Macau also fails to pay many dividends. And the less said about the Porgs, the better.
Some tighter editing would have relieved most of my mid-movie tension — as well as my bladder concerns as “The Last Jedi” stretches to an unnecessarily long 151 minutes. If not for that spectacular final act, it would be tempting to refer to it as “The Lasts and Lasts and Lasts Jedi.”
Still, Johnson has crafted such a powerful, screaming geekgasm of a movie, Disney has entrusted him with creating a separate trilogy of “Star Wars” films.
It’s a brilliant choice.
“Looper” was good. But with “The Last Jedi,” Johnson has established himself as a Force to be reckoned with.
Movie: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Running time: 151 minutes
Rating: PG-13; sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Playing: Opens Dec. 15 at multiple locations