“This all just a machine,” Benecio Del Toro, playing a shady rogue, says to resistance fighters midway through the overlong new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi. He might just as well be speaking about Disney’s reboot of George Lucas’s space opera. The original Star Wars enabled Lucas to self-finance his two sequels and three prequels, making him the most financially successful independent filmmaker of all time. Disney paid him $4 billion for the franchise (which he nobly donated to charity) and is releasing one new film in the series every year to recoup their investment. I chuckled at a commercial for a Walt Disney Star Wars cruise that ran before this latest film.
Picking up where J. J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi (you are forgiven for laughing at this obviously misleading title) finds Rey (Daisy Ridley) imploring Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, giving the best performance of his career) to train her in the ways of the Force. Even novices to the franchise will recognize that Hamill now fills the role Alec Guiness played in the original. Skywalker is now a cynical hermit who just wants to be left alone on his rocky island on a water planet. His twin sister, General Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final performance), desperately tries to save the Resistance fleet from encroaching enemies. There are space battles galore, featuring the most spectacular special effects yet, a large dose of welcome humor, and the passing of the torch from old characters to new ones. The central conflict between Rey and Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren has sufficient weight to hold writer-director Rian Johnson’s somewhat messy pastiche of The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi together, but this Disneyfied universe still doesn’t make much sense: How did Emperor Snoke and the First Order even rise to power following the events of the original trilogy? Stay tuned for the next machine to find out.