Rian Johnson's "The Last Jedi" is the trippiest, scrappiest and most rule-breaking "Star Wars" adventure yet.
Johnson takes George Lucas' space opera in new, often thrilling, and sometimes erratic directions while finding the truest expression yet of the saga's underlying ethos of camaraderie in resistance to oppression. Though there are countless familiar broad strokes, "The Last Jedi" has discovered some new moves in this far away galaxy.
As the second installment in this third "Star Wars" trilogy, "The Last Jedi" is like the inverted corollary of "The Empire Strike Back." While it is often murky and weird, Johnson's frequently comic film distinguishes itself by upending the traditional power dynamics of heroes and bit players in the "Star Wars" galaxy.
Here, the odds-defying daredevil flyboy (Oscar Isaac as Resistance pilot Poe Dameron) is an impetuous chauvinist, at odds with a female commander (a purple-haired Laura Dern).
The master-apprentice relationship is now tilted more toward Rey, the young Jedi (Daisy Ridley). She's sent to stir a monkish Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) from a windswept, Porg-infested isle.
Abrams's finest touch in his zippy reboot was in his diverse casting — in particular Ridley and John Boyega as Finn, the Stormtrooper turned good guy. But writer-director Johnson has gone further to shake up the familiar roles and rhythms of "Star Wars."
Scattershot and loose-limbed, "The Last Jedi" doesn't worship at its own altar, often undercutting its own grandiosity.
Those breaks of form will throw some diehards. Especially in the surreal isolated scenes of Rey and Luke — where Luke, with a thick gray mane and a hermit's foul-manner is seen drinking a creature's breast milk and pole-vaulting from rock to rock. "The Last Jedi" teeters on the edge of camp.
It's not surprising that Johnson has made a movie full of clever inversions. What's jarring is that he's made a "Star Wars" film that tries to not take itself too seriously, while simultaneously making it more emotional.
Yet before its considerable payoff, "The Last Jedi" feels lost and grasping for its purpose. Unlike earlier films, the less tactile "The Last Jedi" isn't much for world building, and its sense of place isn't as firm. As an intergalactic travelogue, it's a disappointment.
Johnson also lacks what Lucas and Abrams alike recognized as the franchise's most potent weapon: Harrison Ford. As the prairie boy turned knight, Hamill has never been the saga's heart-and-soul. While Luke gets his big moment, "The Last Jedi" doesn't do him any favors, plopping him on a pitiless, jagged rock away from the action and a backstory filled with regret. As Carrie Fisher's final "Star Wars" film, it's a shame she isn't more front-and-center, but she makes her scenes count.
The downside in a story that spins its characters around the galaxy is that the new generation of Star Wars protagonists hasn't had time for the small gestures that would shape their characters — close-ups that their forerunners were afforded. Even after two films, Rey is more of an unstoppable sprite than a fleshed-out person.
But "The Last Jedi" gathers momentum. By breaking down some of the old mythology, Johnson has staked out new territory. For the first time in a long time, a "Star Wars" film feels forward-moving.
Much of that sense of progress comes in the character of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who's thrust into a pivotal role in the rebellion. It's she who voices the film's abiding message, one that — as the first "Star Wars" film of the Trump era — has affecting resonance. The Resistance will win, she says, "not fighting what we hate" but "saving what we love."
In a pop culture juggernaut as imposing as "Star Wars," these moments carry more meaning than they would elsewhere. After long skating around anything political, "The Last Jedi" — whether it's meant to be or not — has the tenor of a rallying cry. Johnson has fully internalized a single line of dialogue from "Return of the Jedi" — "You rebel scum," said with disdain by a Nazi-like lieutenant — and turned it into a badge of pride.
"STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI"
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
NOW SHOWING: At AMC Baton Rouge 16, AMC Mall of Louisiana 15, Celebrity Theatres Baton Rouge 8, Cinemark Perkins Rowe and XD, Movie Tavern Citiplace, Malco Gonzales Cinema, Movie Tavern Juban Crossing (Denham Springs), The Grand 14 (Lafayette), The Grand 16 (Lafayette) and Celebrity Theatres Broussard 10 (Lafayette).
RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 32 mins.
MPAA RATING: PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED PG-13? For sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)