Reinvigorated by J.J. Abrams' everything-old-is-deja-vu-again Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015 and spelled by last year's forgettable offshoot Rogue One, the Star Wars saga's central storyline resumes with this adequate but overstuffed outing.
At 152 minutes, The Last Jedi is the longest chapter in the franchise's history, and it feels like it. The original intent of Star Wars creator George Lucas may have been to evoke the junk-food nostalgia of bygone matinee serials, but this is more like a 12-course binge. So many potential cut-to-(starry)-black moments arise during the final half-hour that not getting an excruciating cliffhanger for an ending seems paradoxically anticlimactic. The war goes on, but waiting two years for Episode IX won't be terribly agonizing.
Getting to those big moments involves sticking around long enough for three drawn-out plots to converge. Daisy Ridley returns as Rey, the scrappy scavenger turned earnest resistance fighter last seen coming face to face with missing-in-action Luke Skywalker (a bearded and bristling Mark Hamill) in what he refers to as “the most unfindable place in the galaxy.” Rey hopes to convince the reluctant Jedi master to inspire rebels opposed to the evil First Order.
If Rey also can get Luke to provide some tips on how to master the Force that has awakened her telekinetic and telepathic abilities, so much the better. “I've seen your daily routine,” she says. “You're not busy.”
Meanwhile, rebel remnants commanded by former princess and current General Leia Organa (a subdued Carrie Fisher, in her final film role) are staying just far enough ahead of pursuing First Order ships to avoid destruction. Unless likeably naive former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and similarly guileless pilot Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) make it back from an away mission with a code breaker who can disable a First Order tracking device, the rebels are doomed.
Their trip to the casino planet that serves as this episode's obligatory cantina-scene callback is the movie's most awkwardly out-of-place segment, complete with implied morals about animal abuse, child labor, conspicuous consumption and arms dealing. On the positive side, the journey does introduce Benicio Del Toro as a questionably reliable hacker.
Adam Driver returns as surly but soulfully conflicted Kylo Ren, who previously murdered dad Han Solo and now is gunning for mom Leia. (Bizarrely, Luke is informed of Han's death off-screen.) In long-distance mind-bridge connections, Kylo Ren tries to lure Rey to the dark side by explaining why he attempted to kill Luke, burned down his school and slaughtered most of his fellow students. Obviously, it's a tough sell.
Oscar Isaac is back as rebel pilot Poe Dameron, who enthusiastically requests “permission to jump in an X-wing and blow something up.” Andy Serkis excels as the First Order's Supreme Leader Snoke, a deliciously snide CGI character who seems contemptuously amused by Rey's willfulness and Kylo Ren's indecisiveness. At the other end of the computer-animated spectrum are the adorably big-eyed Porgs from Luke's island, who are sure to be a stuffed-animal sensation.
Director Rian Johnson, whose last feature was 2012's kinda stupid time travel/noir flick Looper, is the only writer other than Lucas to receive sole screenplay credit on any Star Wars film. (He also is slated to direct three spinoffs over the next decade.) Yet The Last Jedi plays more like a generic, cover-all-the-bases corporate pastiche than a uniquely singular vision. It gets the job done, puts some new toys on shelves and includes one major franchise-altering event. It also has outer-space dogfights aplenty, brings back some classic weapons and features an unexpected character cameo.
So why does this feast feel like so much filler?
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI | Directed and written by Rian Johnson | Walt Disney Pictures | Citywide
James Dawson's website is iDawson.com.