Long but epic, fresh but filled with tributes to the past, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI's last 45 minutes are about as good as it gets for this Star Wars fan.
40 years (?!!) after the release of the original Star Wars, we all found ourselves at the Alamo Drafthouse on opening night, talking about seeing the original at the Cine Capri and hoping that this new entry would capture some of the celluloid magic of the original trilogy.
NO SPOILERS here.
The story picks up where "The Force Awakens" ended in 2015. Evil is gaining power and the Resistance forces have taken a blow, attempting to retreat but realizing that the New Order baddies have found new ways to follow them across those galaxies far, far away.
If this new film has any issues, it's with the sheer amount of storytelling it packs into its slightly cumbersome 152 minutes.
We have Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has found Luke Skywalker to be more like the old man in "Up" than a legendary rebel. Mark Hamill turns in the performance of his life as Luke, bringing gravitas and humor to his signature role.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (a fantastic Adam Driver) is wrestling with his Father's murder and battling internal voices. His temper hasn't calmed and the supreme baddy Snoke (Andy Serkis and killer CGI) is pushing him with plenty of tough mentoring from his giant, red lair. (Snoke's intergalactic office is fascinating to me, like some bright red homage to both "Tron" and "The Black Hole". Sci-Fi fans will get what I mean...)
Meanwhile, new Rebel hero Finn (John Boyega) is out of his coma and looking to reunite with Rey and further their cause.
Dont forget this generation's Han Solo, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac, excellent) leading daring attack after attack. Issac brings a ton of humor to the film in the same style as Harrison Ford's brash, cocky bravado.
In her last film role, Carrie Fisher is flawless as Leia. Knowing that she died shortly after filming adds a lot of weight to some of her dialogue and one quiet scene in deep space is haunting knowing what you know now.
Chewbacca is back, as are R2-D2, C-3PO and some other beloved characters that offer some film fan goosebumps along with way.
I could have done without the whole scene on the Las Vegas like Casino planet, it teeters dangerously on being too hokey in that Ewok kind of way, but some nice references to the original Cantina scene got me through it.
Benecio Del Toro is good as a codebreaker that seems to serve mostly as a callback to Billy Dee Williams, Lando.
My only other complaint is Kelly Marie Tran as Resistance techie Rose. Her acting recalls Jake Lloyd & Hayden Christensen, and Star Wars fans know that's not a good thing on any level.
John Williams music score is fantastic, carving out a new score while weaving in Leia and Luke's themes you've heard for four decades, along with a rousing reprise of "The Asteroid Belt" from 'The Empire Strikes Back" during a visual tribute to that great scene.
Production Design is perfect and the conclusion on the desert planet with white sands and red terrain just beneath provides some startling visuals.
Where "The Force Awakens" was a near replica of "Star Wars", LAST JEDI pays homage to "Empire" frequently while carving out its own path. Those looking for nostalgic tips to Empire will not be disappointed. They are powerful and nostalgic.
Writer/Director Rian Johnson absolutely nails the Star Wars storytelling feel. If you haven't seen his 2012 film "Looper" with Bruce Willis, check it out. It's excellent.
Johnson takes these characters to places that are more modern in thought and perspective than many traditionalist Star Wars fans may like. I've seen rants and raves online from people that I'm convinced just want to hate anything that might be popular.
Johnson's got vision and a unique storytelling style.
The last 45 minutes of LAST JEDI are not only as good as "Star Wars" movies get, they are good as movies get.
As all the separate stories merge and our characters face critical moments that will change the franchise, the scenes come at you full blast, loaded with light saber battles, full scale space battles between massive warships, and one-on-one showdowns that provide jaw-dropping visuals and quiet, laugh out loud asides.
The Force is strong with this one and it gets an A.
UPDATE 2019: It's funny, going back and trying to watch "The Last Jedi" again, the plot holes are glaring and much of the story feels forced on second viewing. There's no denying how much I enjoyed it in the theatre, but alas, definitely diminishing returns with repeat viewings.