Star Wars: The Last Jedi ***

A slightly middling first half gives way to a truly fantastic finish.

Is it worth $10? Yes 

I recently came to a disheartening realization. I haven’t genuinely liked a “Star Wars” movie since “Return of the Jedi.” That was 34 years ago, and that’s 34 years of embarrassing prequels, a lackluster sequel, and whatever the heck “Rogue One” was (a decent filler between trilogy movies?). A lot, then, is riding on “The Last Jedi,” the continuation of “The Force Awakens,” to be good. And if it didn’t measure up, it would be time, as Luke Skywalker says of the Jedi Order in the movie, to let it die.

Well, “The Last Jedi” isn’t a home run, but the second half is so good it comes really close. It feels like two movies in one with a soggy first half that seems to bear many of its predecessor’s problems replaced by an amazing and stunningly satisfying second half.

But yes, the first hour can be a little rough, especially if, like me, you’re not a fan of “The Force Awakens.” Some of the dialogue is groan worthy. Princess Leia (a wonderful Carrie Fisher, rest in peace) to hot-headed fighter pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac): “You need to stop thinking with your cockpit.” That sounds like vintage George Lucas dialogue; that’s not a good thing. And once again, too many moments mirror those of the original trilogy films, this time “The Empire Strikes Back”: the plot kicks off with another evacuation of another rebel base and another chase ensues after the surviving rebels (whoops, they’re the Resistance now…completely different) by the evil Empire (oops, now they’re the First Order), and on and on.

And the other plot threads don’t hold as much interest as they should. While it’s great to have Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, now with a throaty growl, his presence has been sorely missed) back and with actual dialogue this time, there’s a repetitive nature to his early scenes with Rey (Daisy Ridley). She endlessly seeks his guidance; he endlessly turns her down. Finn (John Boyega) and Poe, in the meantime, have their own subplots to worry about. Finn embarks on a side mission to a Vegas-esque luxury planet with a new partner, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who’s kind of annoying, while Poe (who at least has more screen time this go around) butts heads with a new commander, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).

As the film’s runtime accrued, my heart began to sink. The hope I had for it to rectify the mistakes of its predecessor diminished with each passing minute, and after an hour, it began to lose me. I gave up. Another Star Wars movie I wouldn’t like. It all felt like filler, like the movie was just biding its time. But biding its time for what? And whatever it was, would it be worth it?

As I pondered these questions, the movie began to pick up steam. First with small moments: a completely unexpected connection that develops between two characters, moments of understanding and even warmth between others, and callbacks to earlier films that are more than mere imitations but rather a way to deepen the characters, their history, and the film’s mythology. And then, something happens that sets the characters and the story in a new, unexpected, and, dare I say it, thrilling direction. All of which culminates in a breathtaking last act that delivers the action, drama, and fantastical images that we’ve come to expect from this franchise.

I’m being vague, I know, but the movie is filled with surprises that I don’t want to ruin. Surprises that will make just about any fan of the series drool at the mere thought of them. At one point, the audience I was with gasped at…something. A theater full of jaded movie critics actually gasped, in unison. And that…something was so emotional that my brother almost began to cry right there in the theater (I was fine as I, apparently, have a heart of stone). But these moments obviously work as intended. I was lucky to experience them with little to no knowledge of what was going to happen next and I wouldn’t dream of ruining that fun, that enjoyment for anybody else.

If you’re looking for perfection, it ain’t here. But by the end there are so many scenes, moments that are nearly perfect. After the mediocrity of “The Force Awakens,” I had all but given up on this new trilogy of films. And while “The Last Jedi” isn’t perfect, there is so much that’s good, even great, that it has given me…wait for it…a new hope.

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