'The Last Jedi' Is Not More Of The Same In 'Star Wars' Franchise

Dec 13, 2017
Originally published on December 13, 2017 7:14 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" opens this weekend in more theaters than any "Star Wars" movie ever has. It is episode eight in a series that promises to go on pretty much forever. And while you might think that would lead the filmmakers to serve up more of the same, critic Bob Mondello says, without spoilers, that "The Last Jedi" feels surprisingly fresh.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Gotta say, I was nervous. Nobody who sat through those lackluster prequels with Jar Jar Binks will ever take the "Star Wars" formula completely for granted. Fans held their breath for this new trilogy, hoping J.J. Abrams could make "The Force Awakens" fun. And he did and left us hanging with freedom fighter Rey holding out a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, begging him with her eyes to come back and make things OK, which is more or less where this one starts. So why was I nervous again...

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MARK HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) Breathe.

MONDELLO: ...Because "Force Awakens" was all about nostalgia, and you can't keep a series interesting by doing the same thing over and over. So "Last Jedi" was going to have to go someplace different, and I didn't trust where.

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HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) Just breathe.

MONDELLO: And I should have.

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HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) Now reach out.

MONDELLO: That voice is Luke's, inviting Rey to explore a more complex notion of the force and how it works in the universe than she's had in her head. And the filmmakers are asking the audience to do that, too, without giving up any of the fun of droids and lightsabers. "Star Wars" has always been a story about darkness and light, first order and resistance. But "The Last Jedi" is all about grey areas, shadows, bad guys who may not be all bad, friends who sometimes make terrible choices - also of course about planet-blasting dreadnoughts, storm troopers, wookiees and a critter called a porg.

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MONDELLO: Porgs look like puffins and will soon be under every Christmas tree on this planet, as opposed to the film's planets, which are richly textured digital wonderlands - an intergalactic Monte Carlo, say, or a desert world that turns into a giant red and white Etch A Sketch during battles. Director Rian Johnson, whose previous movies have been tiny by comparison, marshals special effects as if he's been dreaming this "Star Wars" installment since he was a kid.

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MONDELLO: And he probably has. Johnson also marshals sharp performances, especially from the saga's veterans. Mark Hamill's curmudgeonly Luke Skywalker seems to be channeling his inner-Han Solo at times and keeps the brother-sister act going with Carrie Fisher, whose death last year renders Leia's every utterance bittersweet. The youngsters spend most of their time whipping up the action, Oscar Isaac and John Boyega ever-impetuous as Poe and Finn...

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OSCAR ISAAC: (As Poe Dameron) Finn, you must have a thousand questions.

JOHN BOYEGA: (As Finn) Where's Rey?

MONDELLO: ...Daisy Ridley's Rey fierce and affecting, as is Adam Driver's Kylo Ren...

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ADAM DRIVER: (As Kylo Ren) Let the past die.

MONDELLO: ...A Vader wannabe who's growing up and growing stronger.

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DRIVER: (As Kylo Ren) That's the only way to become what you were meant to be.

MONDELLO: There are new folks, too, as you'll want to discover for yourself in a story where the John Williams score intensifies not just galaxy-defining battles but things as mundane as grabbing dinner. Nothing in "The Last Jedi" is allowed to be mundane, including the places the filmmakers take the story.

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MONDELLO: As Luke tells Rey...

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HAMILL: (As Luke Skywalker) This is not going to go the way you think.

MONDELLO: True for the audience, too, perhaps the most gratifying of "The Last Jedi's" many joys. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "STAR WARS THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.