Actors Mark Hamill, from left, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega pose for photographers at the photo call for the film ’Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ in
Actors Mark Hamill, from left, Daisy Ridley and John Boyega pose for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' in London, Wednesday, Dec. 13th, 2017. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP) (Joel C Ryan)

So they finally made a good "Star Wars" movie.

"The Last Jedi" looks like a work of fine science-fiction art, takes key characters to really conflicted places, revitalizes old action tropes, such as lightsaber fights and wrecking big space vessels in imaginative new ways, and even imbues all that Force nonsense with some solid spiritual wisdom.

In other words, it's not just a nostalgia-servicing exercise or gigantic toy ad (porgs notwithstanding, though even those comic cuddle objects are kept to a judicious minimum). Rather than go all simpleminded on the good vs. evil issue, "The Last Jedi" instead projects something like an understanding of actual human nature.

That's new.

In this Dec. 9, 2017 photo, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" cast member Adam Driver, center, poses for a photo with Chris Alegria, left, as fellow
In this Dec. 9, 2017 photo, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" cast member Adam Driver, center, poses for a photo with Chris Alegria, left, as fellow cast member Gwendoline Christie looks on at the premiere of the film "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Alegria was one of seven teens with life-threatening medical conditions who were among the special guests at the premiere as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) (Chris Pizzello)
Shows what you can achieve when you put a writer/director with a distinctive vision and a mature sense of narrative, in this case Rian Johnson, in charge of the most corporate of moviemaking endeavors. George Lucas, and certainly J.J. Abrams, should study "Last Jedi" and learn. Most of all, so should Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy. She seems to have gotten the message about Johnson, whom she recently put in charge of a new trilogy. Now if she'd only stop whacking other cool directors from "Star Wars" films.

Because, obviously, whether or not fans who just want more childish space odyssey swing with Johnson's character-based storytelling and sophisticated visuals, the machine that makes these movies kind of owes it to the universe to at least explore its main themes more deeply from time to time.


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That's exactly what Johnson does here, and he comes up with clean, more persuasive and compelling riffs on those familial and political ideas Lucas and his successors have doodled around with -- sometimes elaborately but always superficially -- for decades.

Luke Skywalker's tortured relation- ship with the whole Jedi thing gets worked out in agonizing detail this time around, and Mark Hamill plays it like you'd expect, i.e., as someone who has been waiting for decades to tear into this stuff with everything he's got.

Recap of characters from "The Force Awakens"
There's a tragic gravity to Luke's guilt and regrets not found anywhere else in "Star Wars." But don't worry, fun-seekers, Hamill still knows how -- and when -- to be funny as hell.

I'm not spoiling anything by telling you Luke spends a lot of time training Daisy Ridley's Rey in the ways of the knights, nor that she's an apt pupil. But the two of them have more interesting stuff than that going on, and Ridley proves herself marvelously capable of dicing complicated thought with minimal muss or fuss.

Strategic underplaying also works wonders for Adam Driver, whose Kylo Ren comes back from "The Force Awakens" more confused than ever, though dangerously determined when you think he can't get any worse.

In this Dec. 9, 2017 photo, Daisy Ridley, right, a cast member in the film "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," laughs with Shannon McNabb, from left,
In this Dec. 9, 2017 photo, Daisy Ridley, right, a cast member in the film "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," laughs with Shannon McNabb, from left, Tyler Woodward and Chris Alegria at the premiere of the film at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The teens were among seven teens with life-threatening medical conditions who were among the special guests at the premiere as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) (Chris Pizzello)

Yes, the family tension (ha, that's putting it mildly) between Luke, Kylo and Leia plays out pretty satisfactorily. Fans of the late Carrie Fisher may be disappointed that Leia is essentially written out of the second act of "Last Jedi," but Fisher still delivered enough weary maternalism as the rebel leader to carry us into whatever the "Star Wars" future holds.

As for her rebels, most of 'em find cool things to do as an unbeatable (ha, again) First Order armada chases their remnants through the heavens.

In this Dec.  9, 2017 photo, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" cast member John Boyega, right, poses for photo with Olivia Sava, 14, of New York, at the
In this Dec. 9, 2017 photo, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" cast member John Boyega, right, poses for photo with Olivia Sava, 14, of New York, at the premiere of the film at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Sava was one of seven teens with life-threatening medical conditions who were among the special guests at the premiere as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP) (Chris Pizzello)
Oscar Isaacs' hotshot Poe displays Captain Kirk-level commitment and cunning while causing all kinds of trouble. Turncoat stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) still may have his priorities straight, but for whose benefit? Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran comes on all fangirl goofy as maintenance worker Rose Tico, but steels up quickly like the good audience surrogate she's designed to be. 

My favorite among the new cast members is Laura Dern as Leia's vice admiral, Amilyn Holdo, a poker player of near-Vulcan inscrutability. Benicio Del Toro easily infects us with the fun he's having on his visit from Marvel's outer-space universe.