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Star Wars: The Last Jedi
As the end credits roll on Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, replete with a poignant on-screen tribute to "our princess Carrie Fisher", a bell tolls on nostalgia-steeped memories of George Lucas's epic space saga. If Episode VII: The Force Awakens excitedly crammed everything fans love into one giddily entertaining origin story, the next chapter directed by Rian Johnson accelerates towards a different kind of Star Wars experience. "Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That's the only way we can be who we are meant to be," proclaims masked antagonist Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) during one breathless stand-off. His doom-laden words reverberate throughout Johnson's bloated, special effects-heavy picture. Knockabout humour is imported from a Marvel Comics galaxy not so far, far away and doesn't always achieve lightspeed. Classic slapstick between the Rebellion and First Order feels awkward when the punchline, hanging over the verbal to and fro, is genocide. Cute critters called Porgs are employed to broadly comic effect like the Minions in Despicable Me, but are essentially a lucrative line in merchandising. The Last Jedi doesn't sever ties completely with the past - there are reverential bows to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher confidently bear the film's emotional weight to heart-tugging effect. Their triumphs are, however, at the expense of fresh-faced fighters on both sides of the conflict. Performances vary wildly. One minute a character can be as wooden as the gnarled tree where Luke (Hamill) safeguards ancient Jedi texts, and moments later they milk tears of genuine emotion in gorgeous, glistening close-up. Johnson's film is nothing if not frustratingly inconsistent. The balance of power is delicately poised as Rey (Daisy Ridley) implores island recluse Luke to stand with his sister General Leia Organa (Fisher) in the war against Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his vengeful protege, Kylo Ren. Leia attempts to rein in reckless X-wing fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) as the rebels are stalked by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the might of the First Order. Meanwhile, stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and rebel crew member Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a secret mission, and Snoke openly questions Kylo Ren's devotion to the dark side. "You have too much of your father's heart in you," snarls Snoke. "You're no Vader. Alas, you're just a child in a mask!" Star Wars has been hard-wired into my cultural DNA since childhood so The Last Jedi is a bitter pill. It's certainly not a misstep on the scale of The Phantom Menace, and Johnson engineers some jaw-dropping set pieces including a visually stunning battle conducted on a salt plain that throws up plumes of red dust. More is less in a flabby caper of contrivances and coincidences that clocks in at 152 minutes, uncomfortably and unnecessarily the longest instalment so far. Some big questions that lingered at the end of Episode VII are answered, others remain tantalisingly out of reach. Two years hence, when the cataclysmic storm of Episode IX breaks, hopefully I'll be blown away again.