MOVIE BUFF-ET: ‘The Last Jedi’ keeps embers of hope burning in Star Wars saga


The most constructive thing I can write about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is that if you have any inclination to see this movie whatsoever, do so quickly.

Don’t wait around, or aspects of the film will be spoiled for you because the movie is too strong, too well-crafted, too exciting, and too emotionally provoking for fans to not talk about the middle chapter of this arresting space-opera trilogy.

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    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinacle Hills)
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  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (PG-13) 2 hr. 32 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Rogers Towne, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Bentonville Skylight)
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The story picks up just seconds after the close of J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” with a grand space battle as the evil First Order is uprooting the Resistance, led by Gen. Leia Organa. Simultaneously conflicted Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) confronts the last Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) about his inactivity, her need for Jedi training, and the Resistance’s need for his help.

Rey is strong with the Force, perhaps as strong or stronger than Jedi-gone-Sith Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who works as the apprentice of malignant and mangled Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in motion-capture CGI) of the First Order. Ren’s given name is Ben Solo; he’s the son of Leia and Han Solo. Ren killed his father Han before being bested by Rey in a light-saber battle near the end of the previous film.

Ren turned dark while training in the ways of the Force under Skywalker’s tutelage. Ren chased the Jedi master into seclusion on the water world Ach-Too after destroying Skywalker’s Jedi temple and murdering other students of the Force.

The movie is about the battle for souls of Rey and Ren juxtaposed against the Resistance’s flight for survival from the First Order. Luke could be the key to saving Rey, Ren and the Resistance, but he seems resolved to remains a tortured prisoner of his own guilt, fears, and doubts.

Is the film, written and directed by Rian Johnson (“Looper” and “Brick”), a masterpiece?

It might be just short of that. Only time will tell how the film is ultimately regarded. However, it is definitely the most arresting, challenging, and enlightening film in the series since 1980’s “Empire Strikes Back,” which many consider the gold standard of the Star Wars franchise.

Thematically, “The Last Jedi” treads similar waters as “Empire,” but unlike “The Force Awakens,” which garnered a bit criticism for recycling previous Star Wars themes with little advancement, the movie keeps fans on their toes by zigging where its expected to zag.

Those early choices by Johnson create a true sense of tension, danger, and stakes for the characters that works in the film’s favor. As the story unfolds, enough unexpected happens that viewers are unsure of just what might happen with the characters will make until Johnson reveals it.

Getting much deeper into the details of the plot would hamper your enjoyment, and whether the viewer ends up liking Johnson’s choices or not, the film fan needs to experience the story on the big screen rather than in a review.

The film is impeccably shot. It’s truly a “beautifully made film” as Star Wars creator George Lucas said in quote published by “The Hollywood Reporter.”

From the lush but odd island where Rey finds Luke to the spacescape where a number of fantastic battles are played out to a sci-fi casino/gambling planet of Canto Bight, to the Rebel Alliance stronghold on a red planet made white by salt deposits, the film’s set pieces are grand and beautiful.

The action is adroit and plentiful. From lightsaber and laser billy-club battles to all-out war in space, and a final duel between light and dark wielders of the Force, the film delivers.

The plot builds from character, and despite the surprising nature of some of Johnson’s choices, they only enhance the characters that some viewers have been following for 40 years. The film also further delineate the newer characters introduced just a few years ago in “The Force Awakens.”

While Hamill, Ridley, and Driver have the largest roles in the film, Fisher, who completed her performance before dying Dec. 26, 2016; Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron; John Boyega as Finn, Domhnall Gleeson Gen. Hux all have their moments in the movie.

New characters Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), criminal and codebreaker DJ (Benicio de Toro) as DJ, and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) add to the story, particularly Dern as Holdo.

I might quibble with bits of the film, but those issues are minor in the grand scheme. The humor Johnson flavored into the movie was character driven and generally worked.

After watching the film, it’s easy to see why Disney has asked Johnson to develop a future Star Wars trilogy that will follow Abrams’ conclusion to this cycle of the Star Wars saga.

It will be interesting to see where both directors end up taking us.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 32 min.
Grade: A-

Classics Corner

The Skylight Cinema in Bentonville will give film fans to experience two modern Christmas classics on the big screen once again when it presents an 11:11 p.m. midnight showing of “Love Actually” on Dec 22 and an 11 a.m. showing of “Elf” on Dec. 23. Tickets are on sale now.

Love Actually
Love Actually is a funny, heart-warming, yet decidedly adult and at times sad movie about the many forms of love how they unspool across the lives of a fantastic ensemble cast during the Christmas season in London.

Writer-Director Richard Curtis crafted a truly classic Christmas film that’s as poignant as it is charming and sexy as it is funny.

The cast includes Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Keira Knightley among others.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) is an uncommon elf. He’s the most uncommon of all the elves living at the North Pole and working for Santa Claus (Ed Asner).

Buddy’s uncommon because he’s actually not an elf at all, but rather an orphaned human who was brought up by Poppa Elf (Bob Newhart). Once Buddy learns that he’s actually human he journeys to New York to find his biological father (James Cann), who is unaware of his oldest son. Buddy also is starstruck by Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) a cute but unenthusiastic employee at Gimbels Department Store. Mayhem ensues as North Pole culture clashes with the hardness of New York City in a hilarious and sentimental ode to Baby-boomer Christmas movies and animated specials.