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Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017 12:04 am

Familiarity, pace trips up Jedi


One of the things I feared would happen when Disney acquired the rights to the Star Wars universe and announced an ambitious slate of movies that would take us to that galaxy far, far away on an annual basis would be that what was once special would become all too familiar. There was a three-year gap between movies when the first trilogy and the ensuing prequels were made, and while at the time that seemed an excruciatingly long time to wait, it succeeded in making each foray into George Lucas’ world seem special, a true cinematic event.

With the latest chapter in the never-ending-as-long-as-it-is-profitable saga, The Last Jedi, the first signs of staleness are evident throughout. While many complained – justifiably – that the previous entry, The Force Awakens, was nothing but a remake of 1977’s A New Hope, the same sort of narrative déjà vu is at play here, to a certain degree. Equally troublesome is Jedi’s bloated running time. Clocking in at 2 ½ hours, the movie seems longer than it actually is due to the fact we’re going over well-covered narrative territory.

The film opens with a massive battle in space in which a small group of rebels, led by the ever-reckless Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), take out massive destroyers in the First Order’s fleet. Meanwhile, would-be Jedi savior Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on an isolated island, unwilling to leave and teach her. As this unfolds, reluctant hero Finn (John Bodega) has a crisis of conscience while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) struggles to find his place in the First Order, manipulated by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) to hunt down Rey and Luke.

Disney has asked that critics not reveal too much of the plot, though viewers of the previous films will be able to see where this epic is headed within the first half-hour. It goes without saying that the movie is a visual feast of the sort that only a $300 million budget can produce. Director Rian Johnson, who also penned the script, fills each frame with one digitally rendered ship, monster or weapon after another. It’s an impressive sight, but there are scenes that feel cluttered and far too busy.

As for the story, the seams are starting to show. Every film seems to have some sort of device that needs to be rendered useless so that our heroes can escape. Here there’s a force field, an antenna and a battering ram cannon that are all required to be turned on or off at key moments. This occurs far too often in these movies, and the writers need to give their heroes more to do than simply make them glorified switch-trippers. Also, there are too many balls in the air here. With four separate storylines unfolding, it becomes nearly impossible to create a sense of urgency in any of them. Once we begin to become engaged in Rey’s plight, the viewer is whisked away to another, much less interesting plot thread.

All that being said, the film’s last half-hour faithfully captures the spirit of the original movies – the hair was standing on up on the back of my neck at one point – and familiar faces such as Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO are always welcome. Carrie Fisher is given very little to do in her final turn as Princess Leia, while Mark Hamill has matured into the role of the elder, bitter Luke, turning in a surprisingly fierce performance.

In the end, The Last Jedi delivers everything you would want from a Star Wars movie, something that’s become both a blessing and a curse.

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