The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi isn't afraid to mix things up a little bit. This eighth installment in the saga excluding the stand-alone Rogue One delivers a lot of what you would expect, surrounded by some true storytelling risks. Bringing in Rian Johnson (Looper) to write and direct was an inspired decision. He's clearly enough of a fan to know how to make a satisfying Star Wars movie, and a sufficiently ambitious filmmaker to understand that taking chances often leads to the biggest rewards.

The story largely entails Rey (Daisy Ridley) trying to convince the now-located Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to return with her, while Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and Leia (Carrie Fisher) try to outrun the dreaded First Order and its leaders, Snoke (Andy Sirkis) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

That's the very short version of it, obviously. The specifics of what happens you can find out for yourself, if you haven't already. What's interesting is the way that The Last Jedi takes characters and situations that have become familiar over the course of the series, then looks to see if there's any way to deepen them. Turns out there is.

At its most compelling, this chapter is about the fundamental nature of good and evil, as well as what drives people toward one or the other. Rey and Kylo discover a surprising connection. They are two sides of the same coin. Rey wants to fight the First Order, Kylo wants to rule the universe. Although the goals contradict each other, both individuals are in touch with the opposite side of the Force. They're yin and yang. Significant drama is generated from that notion. Could Kylo be saved from the Dark Side? Could Rey fall into it? Darth Vader's eventual transformation back into Anakin Skywalker aside, characters in Star Wars have typically fallen into one category or the other. The Last Jedi raises the theory that there's a fine line between those categories.

The idea is heightened by Luke's extreme reluctance to return to a savior role. He's experienced things that have made him exile himself, relinquishing his Jedi abilities in the process. Hamill turns in what is probably his best performance in the role, giving us a Luke who's worn down and cynical. Over time, the reason for his self-imposed disappearance is revealed, tying into the overall theme of light and dark playing tug-of-war. We see him from a different angle as a result.

Beyond the thematic richness, The Last Jedi offers up some appealing new characters, from Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who becomes a key player in the Resistance, to the Porgs, big-eyed birdlike creatures to whom Chewbacca takes a shine. Previously-existing characters remain intriguing, especially as we get to know them more fully. At times, we're asked to see heroic characters as flawed and villainous characters as worthy of a modicum of empathy. In some respects, that's the film's biggest risk, yet it pays off dramatically. All the actors do top-notch work.

Johnson has made the best-looking Star Wars movie. He uses inventive, artfully composed shots and powerful color contrasts in a way we haven't seen in these pictures before. The best example is a climactic scene on the planet Crait, whose maroon soil is covered by a layer of white salt. Lots of that soil gets kicked up, leading to one of the most visually arresting cinematic sequences of recent years. Another scene shows Rey having a bizarre hallucinogenic-type vision, with endless mirror images of herself. It's unlike anything ever included in the series, which serves to make it even more enthralling.

Action is plentiful, with thrilling starship fights, a killer lightsaber battle, and a dazzling escape from a luxurious casino planet that hides an unpleasant secret. Star Wars: The Last Jedi successfully combines the thrill-a-minute fun that's always been part of the saga with a fresh spin on the light/dark theme embedded into the epic tale's DNA. Coasting would be such an easy thing for the franchise to do by now. Star Wars fans everywhere can rejoice that Episode VIII continues to expand on the wonderful universe George Lucas created forty years ago.

( out of four)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 32 minutes.

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