You don't have to be a fan to love 'Last Jedi,' but it helps - The Buffalo News

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You don't have to be a fan to love 'Last Jedi,' but it helps

"Waaayy overhyped," grumbled the gentleman behind me as we both exited "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." He was registering disappointment to his devoted family, not a fellow from the working press in front of him.

Grumblers and sourpusses are usually the first to exit theaters when the giant tentpole movies open. I'm always among them only because I don't like to dawdle getting to the parking lot. It's a life strategy I recommend to all who might be interested.

Less than an hour after seeing it, one of my Facebook friends -- and an experienced contributor of movie reviews -- had strewn her page with hearts and love notes to the new 40th anniversary of "Star Wars." She was in tears at the end, she said.

Me? Hate to be a bore, but I was somewhere in the middle between the two witnesses.

Mark Hamill reprises the role of Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." (Disney, Lucasfilm)

I have never been among America's most passionate Star Warriors. I'm just not a passionate saga guy, whether the saga involves Tolkien doings in the Shire, or "Harry Potter" wizardry, or "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" or "The Hunger Games" or whatever else people like to steer their lives and imaginations by. I'm not averse to any of those films, mind you, but I'm never among the first in line or the loudest in their cheering sections.

I like the saga folks (sometimes dismissed as "fanboys" and "fangirls"). I always find them among the gentlest and most peaceful and imaginative among us but I'm just not in their tribe. My tribe -- The Skeptics -- dresses even worse, and we're just as peace-loving but we insist on not passing judgment until it's necessary.

So what's necessary to know about the 40th anniversary "Star Wars" is that, at two and a half hours, it's at least a half-hour too long (maybe 45 minutes) and it's overfull of the usual digital battle sequences which so many of us have come to consider a wee bit old hat in the decades since "Star Wars" introduced us to a new thing back in 1977.

It's a wee bit tiring, too, for non-saga people to follow. The toy that kids will probably want to have from the film is a little Porg, named after the lovable, wide-eyed critters who hang out with Wookies and who look like little owls whose constant expression is one of astonishment and alarm. You could do a lot worse, believe me, than to have the little ones in the family going to bed at night with little baby Porgs on the pillow next to them.

The loathsome disgusting slob in the movie -- in the grand tradition of the incomparably epicene Jabba the Hutt -- is Snoke, played by that most overlooked of performing geniuses, Andy Serkis, the mega specialist who usually operates under a ton of makeup and digital razzle dazzle.

The big battle scene is between Daisy Ridley as Rey, the New Swashbuckleress of the Empire, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the name taken by Ben Solo who, we all know, is the offspring of Han Solo and Princess Leia, even though he was raised in the Jedi Way by Luke Skywalker.

That's why Snoke the Slob mocks him so severely in the movie's opening scenes as the least scary member of the Vader family. (You remember that Darth, he of the malfunctioning lungs, previously confided to the movie universe "Luke, I am your father.")

Family relationships are the dramatic crux here which is why I'll reveal no more. I do think, however, Kylo/Ben has a staggering amount of plot baggage to carry in this movie which is why Driver has disappointed quite a few people. Not his fault. He's a fine actor but no Superman of the actor's trade, as he'd almost have to be to carry this movie off well.

Carrie Fisher died tragically a year ago at the age of 60 but not before leaving enough "footage" to make Princess Leia prominent enough in a grandmotherly way in the 40th anniversary "Star Wars." And thank heaven at least for that. Fisher's daughter Billie Lourd has a small role in the movie which should have been bigger for emotion's sake.

The biggest returning star here, of course, is Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. In this new "Episode VIII" he looks a bit like an old Roadie for Led Zeppelin but that works for what writer/director Rian Johnson has designed for his role. When we first see him, he's a hermit and recluse living on a remote island in a far corner of the universe, where, in his disenchantment, he's working on a way to destroy the whole Jedi way of life.

The Force is still with him but in the intervening years he has begun to act as if it had been replaced by The Schwartz, which is what it was called in Mel Brooks' parody "Space Balls." (As in "May the Schwartz be with you.")

The big combatants in the plot are the Forces of The Resistance (Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Laura Dern, and Oscar Isaac as what Dern calls "a trigger happy flyboy" named Poe Dameron) and The First Order of ugly guys distinguished by oozy, scarred-up makeup and careless hairdressing (Serkis, Driver, Domhnall Gleeson as a miscellaneous general). Benicio Del Toro has a small role for hipster cred.

It's all watchable to those of us in the Skeptics Tribe. I tacked on an extra half star to the star rating for this solely because of my outsized affection for a glorious section in the middle that I enjoyed as I have few other "Star Wars" side journeys.

In the middle of this, the gang goes to a kind of Interstellar Las Vegas gambling casino called Canto Bight where all the evil arms dealers in the universe congregate to gamble way their ill-gotten gains at the gaming tables and races run along long tracks by giant cuddlesome rabbits instead of horses.

Even in a film that's at least a half hour too long, I'd have been delighted to see 10 more minutes of space decadence in Canto Bight, "the Casino Planet" which was actually filmed in Dubrovnik.

Star Warriors will, no doubt, be enriched by such super-abundance and more than a little. Grown up members of the Skeptics Tribe will enjoy just enough to feel minimal regret at the film's overlength in its 40th anniversary year.

MOVIE REVIEW

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

3 stars (out of four)

Starring Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver and Laura Dern. Directed by Rian Johnson. 152 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.

Email: jsimon@Buffnews.com

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