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'Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi' is a spellbinding thrill ride (movie review)

Posted at 8:32 AM, Dec 15, 2017

Weighing in at nearly 150 minutes, "Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens" may be the longest movie in franchise history, but it's also the fastest moving. Like a Death Star cruising along at Millennium Falcon speed. It waits for no one. All you can do is strap in, grab your arm rests and brace for the ride.

Packed with surprises, shocking twists and thunderous set pieces -- with ample humor sprinkled in throughout -- the film is a relentless crowd-pleaser that has as much in common with a pedigreed art film as it does a traditional action blowout.

Director Rian Johnson ("Brick," "Looper") equals the masterful achievement J.J. Abrams mustered with "The Force Awakens," and betters it in some ways by avoiding the formulaic tropes Abrams relied on in that film.

This episode has some of the best dialogue exchanges in the series. Johnson's script wickedly twists the laborious mumbo jumbo that conversations about the Force have often devolved to. Health injections of insightful contrarianism and sarcasm do wonders for the verbiage. 

Mark Hamill steals all of his scenes, reinhabiting Luke Skywalker as a contankerous curmudgeon, serving as a counterpoint to the wide-eyed farm boy and earnest adventurer he was in the orignal trilogy.

Skywalker is one of several characters with complex motivations and buried backstories in the film. The line between light and dark is blurred, providing welcome nuance to a traditionally cut-and-dried sci-fi fantasy epic.

Of the three Disney "Star Wars" films to date, "Rogue One" still holds my heart as the peak, but "The Last Jedi" shows that the company is committed to top-shelf curation of the beloved franchise.

If "The Last Jedi" falls short of "The Force Awakens" in any major way, it's that it's all payoff and little setup. While Abrams film set up many tantalizing mysteries for fans to ponder, Johnson's follow-up reveals answers that will satisfy fans without bringing up many new questions to fill up the Reddit forums for the next two years.

With the troubled young Han Solo film due out next year, the future of "Star Wars" may be cloudy and uncertain, but for now, the Force sure is strong.

RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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