****½ out of five stars
The second installment in the new Star Wars trilogy, The Last Jedi continues where 2015's The Force Awakens left off.
It is a dark time for the Resistance. The First Order has decimated the New Republic, and they have even managed to track the Resistance's ships through hyperspace. With General Leia Organa (played by Carrie Fisher in her final screen performance) left unconscious, Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in command of the Resistance. Veteran heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are less than impressed with Holdo's leadership. So, with the help of droid BB-8 and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), they hatch a plan to disable the First Order's tracking device.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on the remote planet Ahch-To. Luke lives in self-exile as a hermit on a secluded island. He initially refuses to help fight the First Order or train Rey as a Jedi. After an intervention from R2-D2 (Jimmy Vee), Luke reluctantly teaches Rey a few things about the Force.
But then there's Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), servant to the First Order's Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Kylo and Rey become able to communicate with each other via the Force. And the possibilities that Kylo and the Dark Side of the Force offer start to attract Rey more than Luke's meager teachings of the Light Side.
Finn, BB-8 and Rose travel to a casino in the city of Canto Bight, searching for a master codebreaker. Instead, they recruit the rogue DJ (Benicio del Toro), who seems to have the skills they need.
With Rey seduced by the Dark Side, Finn and company forced to trust a possible conman, and Poe mounting a mutiny against Holdo, will our heroes survive?
The Last Jedi has been hailed as the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and it's not hard to see why. Last Jedi's biggest strength is that its multiple subplots and character arcs are all very interesting and well-handled. The previous films in the series mostly only followed one or two major plot threads. Yet here, the stories of Luke, Rey, Finn and Rose and Poe are given equal weight and are all satisfying. The film presents multiple plot twists, keeping the viewers in suspense until the end.
The established characters (both from the original films and Force Awakens) return gracefully, and some are enhanced by some new faces. The newest addition to the main heroes, Rose, is spunky and another welcome female role model. Amilyn Holdo is an honest yet flawed leader, thus providing a more nuanced character dynamic. And DJ can be seen as a contrasting analogue to Han Solo's roguish charm in the original trilogy.
We see some sights new to the Star Wars films. The most interesting locale is the Vegas-like city of Canto Bight, which feels like a blend of Star Wars aesthetics and real-world casinos. Luke's island home is also memorable, littered with the cute penguin-like Porgs and caretaking Lanis. We also witness some epic battles, both in space and on land.
The Last Jedi doesn't reinvent the wheel but builds upon the foundation of the Star Wars franchise and carries it forward to a new generation. It balances humor and drama almost perfectly, and I can’t wait until Episode IX. May the Force be with all of you.