Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
2 hrs. 32 min.

Truth be told, I haven’t seen a Star Wars movie on a big screen since The Empire Strikes Back. It’s not that this generation-spanning phenomenon hasn’t intrigued me; it just seemed a better option to catch up with the films from the comfort of the couch.

In a way, that’s operating around the fanaticism of the overzealous. So when the opportunity to review Star Wars: The Last Jedi arose, I mustered the nascent curiosity I had as a teen, when I piled into a Chevy Nova with friends and a case of beer, and saw the original at a drive-in.

It’s fun, funny and a thrilling blockbuster. The Last Jedi continues the enduring adventure/saga in a way that should fascinate casual movie goers, and sate the die-hard fans, who will likely expect more.

Picking up the thread from Episode VII, The Force Awakens, writer-director Rian Johnson called all hands on deck. Iconic characters pop up for cameos: C-3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca are all involved to a small extent, as the Resistance continues its fight for survival against the Empire’s ancestor, the First Order. Leading these latest avatars of malice is the hideous Snoke, played by CGI-acting specialist Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes). Snoke looks like Nosferatu, with a head like a battered softball. This wretched, all-powerful creature of evil is set on leading his minions to obliteration of the Resistance and domination of the galaxy. His direct lieutenant, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), is another tortured Star Wars villain, overwhelmed by the dark side of the Force. What makes the many complicated histories and storylines palatable is that the entanglements are much like those from the first three films: Paternity, supernatural powers and the fight between good and evil are always at play.

Princess Leia, now a general, leads the Resistance. It’s poignant that, a year after her untimely passing, Carrie Fisher’s work as Leia was her last. As much as her humor and presence in real life is missed, it stokes the imagination how her death will affect her enduring role.

While Leia is graying, but sharp, her brother, Luke (Mark Hamill), indeed the last Jedi, is leading a hermit’s existence on an isolated island among creatively rendered space critters. Luke is at a dour stage of his life, ready to put the torch to Jedi history and its ways, all the while resembling the man on the cover of Jethro Tull’s album Aqualung. When he’s sought out by Rey (Daisy Ridley), a leader among the young badasses who wish to thwart the First Order and save the galaxy, Luke becomes irascible . . . as Yoda had been with him (It all ties in. Johnson has done a skilled job blending the old themes with the new.)

Other players giving it their all to save the galaxy: Finn (John Boyega), now a part of the Resistance; Poe (Oscar Isaac), a fighter pilot; newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), avenging the loss of her sister in a Dr Strangelove-Slim Pickens-ride-the-bomb sequence . . . minus the cowboy hat, of course.

This film is photographed beautifully. The effects are everything you’d expect from a series that set the standard 40 years ago. In Johnson’s hands, it remains peerless among sci-fi epics, splashed as much with wit as it is with funky astral life. The soundtrack, as always, is magnificent. JohnWilliams’ talents diminish not with age There are excellent, well-calculated cameos from stars like Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro.

With a lot to live up to, this casual observer can call The Last Jedi a critical success. The world box-office dominance speaks for itself. That the biggest fans of the franchise may not be as enthused is even understandable. The Force is strong among aficionados.