It’s not spoiling anything to say “The Last Jedi” marks the end of “Star Wars” as we know it.
Where J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” was a near re-enactment of all that went before, writer and director Rian Johnson’s eighth chapter in the Skywalker Saga veers off into some new territory.
Or, to paraphrase another space franchise, Johnson boldly goes where no “Star Wars” has gone before.
In part, the film succeeds wildly. In others, it crash lands spectacularly.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
“Last Jedi” picks up mere moments after the end of “The Force Awakens,” with the Resistance fighters — including Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and General Leia Organa Solo (Carrie Fisher) — on the run after the First Order discovers their base.
Meanwhile, our hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is on a remote planet, returning a lightsaber to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in hopes he might show her the Jedi ways and perhaps return to his sister, Leia.
If this setup sounds slightly familiar to fans of “The Empire Strikes Back,” well, duh.
But added to the mix is a power struggle between Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and jackbooted First Order leader General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), who are hellbent on sucking up to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis in ghoulish motion capture).
To discuss much more about the plot would risk incurring the wrath of the “Star Wars” faithful — and they’re probably not going to like this next part, either.
“The Last Jedi” suffers from “The Lord of the Rings” syndrome — it seems like it might never end. It also poaches scenes, ideas and moments from “Harry Potter,” “The Hunger Games” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
And even though “Star Wars” has never been known for its subtlety, “The Last Jedi” is often heavy-handed. A casino scene ladles the social commentary a little too thickly. The gold-robed Snoke sits in a throne room decorated in a solid power-tie red. All he’s missing is a “Make the Galaxy Great Again” ball cap.
“Jedi” is more of a sprawling ensemble piece than “Force Awakens,” but Ridley and Driver still stand out. It’s thrilling to see Rey and Kylo Ren wrestle with who or what they might become. Isaac’s role as Poe Dameron is beefier, becoming as much of a danger to his fellow rebels as savior. Hamill — whose Luke Skywalker occasionally was a weak point in the original trilogy — is surprisingly good as a conflicted mentor to Rey.
Johnson is less successful with Boyega’s Finn, who is even more of a Jar Jar Binks-type clown than he was in Abrams’ film. And newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) gets points for being among the first major characters in the franchise to be played by an actress of Asian descent but demerits for being a stereotypical nerd.
Two years ago, “The Force Awakens” essentially retold and updated the characters of the original “Star Wars” film (Episode IV, for those of you keeping track at home). Last year’s “Rogue One” was a fine installment but ultimately unnecessary to the overall mythology.
“The Last Jedi,” however, opens up some new possibilities. It doesn’t provide a ton of satisfying answers, but it creates some interesting questions. And it manages to make “Star Wars” feel new again. At the end of “Force Awakens,” fans kind of knew where it had to go from that point. After “Jedi,” anything is possible.
Midway through the film, Kylo Ren may be channeling Johnson when he says, “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It’s the only way to become what you’re meant to be.”
And, so, let it be said: “Star Wars” is dead; long live “Star Wars.”
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Opens at 7 p.m. Dec. 14.