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  • Joseph W. Smith III

LAST JEDI: Yes, I'm another of those critics who liked it a lot

I have two important things to say about the new “Star Wars” movie:

1) Daisy.

2) Ridley.

Actually, I have other stuff to rave about as well; but I just had to get that off my chest.

Ridley, who burst onto the Star Wars scene in 2015’s “Force Awakens,” anchors the new film with mesmerizing humanity and conviction; for me, she’s the strongest performer this long-running franchise has given us.

Ridley plays Rey, whose relationship to the Force was only hinted at in the previous film. Since everyone seems worried about spoilers on this eighth entry, I will explain only that here, Rey seeks help from the much-missed Luke Skywalker -- to aid a woefully outmatched group of rebels fighting for control of the galaxy.

Initially, “The Last Jedi” has a somewhat lumbering plotline. It’s about 25 minutes too long, and spends most of that excess time trying to get off the ground. In the first hour, I felt restless and bored.

And then writer-director Rian Johnson starts working his magic.

As in 1980’s beloved “Empire Strikes Back,” Johnson juggles three or four story-strands for maximum suspense -- and he keeps the plot-twists coming. A friend complained that these were too frequent, seeming to exist merely for their own sake; but I felt they brewed up an organic theme of never knowing whom to trust. It really keeps us on our toes, effectively cautioning us not to jump to conclusions even in our own lives -- and it sets this film apart from George Lucas’ original trilogy, where the plotting was linear and the good guys mostly wore white hats.

In “Last Jedi,” those with questionable hats include Oscar Isaac’s Poe, whose hotshot heroism may or may not be good for the resistance; Laura Dern’s starship commander, with a determination to flee that runs counter to Poe’s aggression; a stuttering, enigmatic code-breaker nicely played by Benicio del Toro; and the wily Kylo Ren (a.k.a., Ben Solo), whom we loved to hate in “Force Awakens” -- played to perfection by the brilliant Adam Driver.

And let’s not forget Mark Hamill as the hermit-like Skywalker. Hamill’s work is so rich and nuanced that I’m almost glad the actor disappeared for years; he’s like a once-young wine that’s aged and mellowed into something truly intoxicating.

Less ambiguous characters include Rey of course, and the perfectly cast franchise newbie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) -- plus, briefly, Yoda, whose reflections on failure hark back to the simple but powerful thematic work favored by Lucas.

Johnson’s vision is richly textured and visually impressive (how ’bout those blood-red salt crystals!); it's also hopeful, compassionate and -- in the final 40 minutes -- truly epic.

I should point out, however, that not everyone was nuts about this film; some online viewers found it rambling and inept, while others simply hated it, swearing they’d never see another “Star Wars” movie.

That’s not me. I’m already eager for number nine.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”

written & directed by Rian Johnson

Run time: 152 min.

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence

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