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REVIEW — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

The Breakdown

Daring, subversive, action-packed and fun, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is Star Wars at its best. Rian Johnson's blockbuster manages to be simultaneously the most serious episode of the long running saga as well as the funniest — delivering the best moviegoing experience of the year.

“This is not going to go the way you think.”

So says a grizzled Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), once the legendary hero who upheld the faith and the tenants of the ancient Jedi religion — seemingly the last to do so.

Luke is now an embittered old recluse who has tucked himself away on Ahch-To, the “most unfindable place in the galaxy,” where the self-exiled Jedi Master was discovered by Jedi-to-be Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the final moments of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The 2015 revival of the long running Star Wars saga effectively revamped the franchise with a trio of lovable new heroes — Rey, Stormtrooper deserter Finn (John Boyega) and hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) — and a Darth Vader-wannabe bad guy in the form of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and a replacement Galactic Empire in the newly formed imperial First Order.

As enjoyable as it was and is, J.J. Abrams’ hit blockbuster was alleged to be a beat-by-beat rehash of Star Wars: A New Hope — the 1977 original that started it all — right down to the emergence of a desert planet nobody as a galactic savior and the arrival of a planet-destroying super-weapon that must be thwarted by a plucky band of resistors.

In his first foray into a galaxy far, far away, writer-director Rian Johnson largely avoids carving out The Last Jedi as a modern redo of The Empire Strikes Back — still the best Star Wars movie,  never to be topped — even if The Last Jedi borrows heavily from Empire and Return of the Jedi.

It’s enough to be noticeable but not enough to be blasphemous, as The Last Jedi blazes its own trail — boldly so.

The Last Jedi is the ballsiest take on Star Wars yet — including last year’s gritty war standalone Rogue One — outdoing even Empire in thematic heaviness.

The 1980 blockbuster, hailed by most not only as the best of the saga but as being one of the finest science-fiction pictures of all time, will likely always be the best Star Wars movie — but the middle chapter of the newest trilogy manages to be its spiritual successor without outright aping its style.

This isn’t Star Wars by the numbers, and everything you expect going into the sophomore installment of Disney’s trilogy is wrong.

The action-packed story is more intimate this time around, but the stakes are just as high: our rebellious heroes are split, as they are in Empire, as Rey coaxes an unwilling Luke Skywalker into serving as her much-needed mentor while she struggles against the pull of Kylo Ren and the Dark side; meanwhile, Poe, Finn and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) do battle with the overwhelming forces of the First Order as General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) lead a dwindling underdog Resistance.

The Last Jedi delivers big-scale space action on a level you’d expect out of the modern iteration of the blockbuster franchise, but character is at the forefront here: Rey, Luke, Kylo Ren and Poe all take big steps forward, even if one character’s trajectory here will prove shocking and controversial for even the most diehard of fans.

To explain further would risk dipping into spoilers — and potentially ruining what could be the “No, I am your father” revelation of this generation.

The moment isn’t related to previously unrevealed familial ties as it was in the most shocking scene of Empire, but something we didn’t previously know is revealed in The Last Jedi — and the bombshell expose is a jaw-dropper, one that will have fans buzzing (and debating) for years to come.

Some fan-favorite characters are relegated to the background — series veteran Chewbacca gets little to do here, and the movie wastes no time on Chewie’s mourning of fallen partner Han Solo — and even BB-8, effectively the new droid face of the franchise, isn’t as involved this time around.

The ball-shaped droid gets to shine and even gets in on the action in unexpected ways, but his involvement is about as limited as Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) — the still-mysterious big bad whose history is just as murky as it was in his introduction in The Force Awakens.

Snoke is an intimidating if underused villain, and one who is far from a replacement for the Emperor, even if he might fancy himself to be the preeminent source of evil in the galaxy. No matter: the movie rightfully opts to instead focus and deeply inspect more interesting characters — Luke, Rey, Kylo Ren — who take the forefront. The Last Jedi is a character study tinged with themes of hope and letting go, aggressively taking fans to places Star Wars has never dared ventured.

For some, it will work wonders. For others, The Last Jedi may be viewed as sacrilegious — particularly in the handling of the old guard.

The Last Jedi doesn’t go the way you think, mostly subverting expectations and tropes at every opportune moment — and the result is a daring and satisfying Star Wars episode that stands arm-to-arm with the best and most beloved films of the saga.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens December 15.

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