Carrie Fisher’s death one year ago is made even more tragic by the fact that she’s the actual star of the new “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Her General Leia Organa is all over this Rian Johnson movie, which soars and aims for operatic drama that is (luckily) punctuated by a number of Fisher’s one liners and wise cracks.
What a surprise! Fisher wise cracked her way through the original three “Star Wars” movies, then “Shampoo” and movies like “Soap Dish.” She had a whole hugely successful second career as a humorist and novelist, took herself to Broadway with the hilariously self-effacing “Wishful Drinking,” and became a much sought after script doctor.
And now, in what would be her last grand gesture, she is the noble leader of the Resistance, wise and wonderful, taking her band of rebels into battle of in act one of “The Last Jedi” and then commanding them with reason and good humor in act three. For this alone, Johnson should be commended. General Leia rules. Best Supporting Actress? You bet.
So do a lot of other characters in the 8th installment of a 40 year old franchise. Fisher is joined by her original “Star Wars” buddy Mark Hamill, who used to be the cute kid, the poster boy Luke Skywalker who learned from his elders. Now Luke is the elder, and Hamill– whose credits beyond “Star Wars” didn’t give his resume much gravity (the surfing movie “Big Wednesday” was about it)–rises to the occasion as an Obi-Wan for the ages. Luke Skywalker has become a sage and shows that pop stars can age with dignity.
There are some surprises in “The Last Jedi.” Newcomers Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro prove to smart additions to the cast. Dern, in particular, is kind of magnificent. del Toro echoes Han Solo from the original “Star Wars,” the rogue you shouldn’t trust.
And then there are the returnees from “The Force Awakens,” the future of “Star Wars” to come after this: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver. Clocking in at a massive two and a half hours or more, “The Last Jedi” gives all of them ample room to stake their claims in the franchise’s future as the older generation waves goodbye.
Ridley’s Rey is the yin to Driver’s Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s yang, but Boyega’s Finn is every bit their equal. Less defined is Isaac’s Poe Dameron, who wanders into a muddled part of this movie: Poe’s brashness gets in his own way when he makes a serious misjudgement about Dern’s Resistance leader. There’s an abruot edit where it seems like a plot change was made, but we’re so far in that it doesn’t matter.
(Maybe it’s me, but my major problem with the new “Star Wars” plot is understanding why Ben Solo went bad and became Kylo Ren. (He’s that angry with his parents?) His act of violence in “The Force Awakens” still doesn’t make sense, makes him irredeemable. That’s my take. A similar act in this movie doesn’t help his cause. I suppose in Episode 9, Rey will have to choose between him and Finn, the good guy. May the force be with her.)
“Star Wars” debuted forty years ago in 1977. I was 20 years old. I didn’t know I was signing up for four decades. What an amazing contribution George Lucas has made to the culture of my lifetime. With “The Last Jedi,” you feel like closure has been reached for fans of my generation. There will be more “Star Wars” adventures, I’m sure, but for me, I’m happy to end here with a kind of Gotterdammerung. When the film ends, and the memorial card to Carrie Fisher appears, I felt a sufficiency. Our work here is done.