'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' is, like the other films in the series, a soap opera in space

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

The latest installment is about on par with the enjoyable 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.' Writer-director Rian Johnson does a creditable, if uninspired, job.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi,' in theaters on Dec. 15.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the eighth movie in the series and one of the better ones. I’d rank it behind “The Empire Strikes Back” (still by far the best) and the first film, but it’s about on par with the enjoyable last episode, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which also awakened the long-moribund franchise.

Writer-director Rian Johnson steps into the franchise fray and does a creditable, if uninspired, job. At about 2-1/2 hours, it’s a long sit – at least it was for this non-fanatic of the series. I can’t get overly nostalgic about the return of Luke Skywalker, even if Mark Hamill does by far the best acting of his career here. As Leia Organa, the late Carrie Fisher, like Hamill, appears to be drawing on a deep fund of nostalgic rue. As for the rest of the cast, they are spirited and youngish enough to bode well for future installments, which will no doubt stretch unto eternity. (Technically, “The Last Jedi” is the second in a projected trilogy that began with “The Force Awakens.”)

I have no wish to turn this review into a minefield of spoiler alerts, so suffice to say “The Last Jedi” pits the weakened Resistance against the First Order meanies; it’s darker in tone than any of the films since “Empire,” which it occasionally references; and there are two welcome new additions to the series – a spunky rebel fighter named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) and a bevy of cute critters called porgs, who resemble benign, big-eyed gremlins and no doubt will be doing double duty as stocking stuffers.

Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is in full brood here. (Has Driver ever played Hamlet?) Daisy Ridley’s Rey, in attempting to lure the equally brooding Luke out of retirement, is pretty broody herself. As returning action-hero Resistance fighters, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega are less introspective. This is all for the best. Let’s us not forget that, for all the hardware and hoo-ha, this franchise is essentially a soap opera in space, with cliffhangers as neatly timed as anything in “The Perils of Pauline.” Fanatics will love it; for the rest of us, it’s a tolerably good time. Grade: B (Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.)

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