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Deep but rollicking ‘Last Jedi’ matches first ‘Star Wars’

In “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Daisy Ridley’s Rey cautiously explores her growing connection to the Force.
In “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Daisy Ridley’s Rey cautiously explores her growing connection to the Force. Disney-Lucasfilm

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a tremendously satisfying movie. It’s got everything fans of the franchise could want in a “Star Wars” movie — perhaps a little too much of some things in some cases.

Hair’s breadth escapes, for example. It has them in bunches. And, like all “Star Wars” movies, its dialogue is sometimes laughably hokey.

It blasts off to a high-powered start with a spectacular space battle between ships of the Rebellion and the evil First Order and then gets down to business by returning to the remote island hideout where the redoubtable Rey (Daisy Ridley) comes face to face with Mark Hamill’s long-missing Luke Skywalker.

Picking up right where “The Force Awakens” leaves off, “Last Jedi” gives us a Luke who is grizzled, haunted and cowled like a medieval monk.

Long gone is the optimistic, swashbuckling kid of the original trilogy. All these years later he’s taken refuge in the “most unfindable place in the galaxy” to brood over a long-ago trauma relating to his status as a legendary Jedi master.

His character, like that of all other major figures in the movie, has been deepened and made more complex by writer-director Rian Johnson, who builds on the groundwork laid down in “The Force Awakens.”

Ridley’s Rey is more nuanced, cautiously exploring her growing connection to the Force. John Boyega as a one-time storm trooper-turned-rebel is given more prominence in the plotting.

And the late Carrie Fisher, in her final performance, brings great gravity to her portrayal of Leia. The movie is dedicated to her.

However, it’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), introduced in “The Force Awakens,” who, more than Luke or Rey, is the central figure in “Jedi.”

Grandson of Darth Vader, murderer of his father Han Solo, he’s the focus of core question of: Is he so far gone over to the dark side of the Force that he’s irredeemable?

Rey, who has a Force-fostered telepathic connection with him, thinks there might still be some good buried somewhere deep inside him. The vicious wizened supreme ruler Snoke (Andy Serkis) wonders about the depth of his commitment to evil as well. “You’re no Vader,” he rasps. “Just a child in a mask.”

Stung, Kylo removes the mask. But in so doing, his true nature paradoxically remains even more hidden. The nature of his relationship to the dark side affects all the other major characters in profound ways.

Johnson, making the leap from small-bore pictures such as “Looper” and “The Brothers Bloom” to the biggest show in the universe, directs with great confidence, adroitly balancing character development with spectacle.

“Last Jedi” is deep. It’s also rollicking. It’s right up there with the very first “Star Wars” in terms of its enjoyability factor.

It’s a triumph.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

1/2 stars out of 4

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran and Benecio del Toro

Director: Rian Johnson

Running time: 2:32

Rated: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence

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