Forty years ago, in a galaxy oh so close to Earth...George Lucas presented the world with the ultimate fantasy. A fantasy that would change everything we knew about movies and the entire movie experience. The "Star Wars" saga was born with fantanstical beasts, alien beings, magical powers, advanced weaponry, good guys, bad guys, good guys turning bad and bad guys trying to turn them back.


It was the return of the damsel in distress, the knight in somewhat shining armor, the getaway, the chase, gleeful camaraderie and tragic loss... all smooshed together in a space opera that made more money than the law allowed. It also branded Lucas as a master storyteller and business planner; his movie concept went on to not only change the way movies were made, but also how they were marketed, released, displayed and re-released. It was worth billions.


Now forty years later and with Disney in possession of the franchise we are being asked to continue watching a saga that needs to inject a younger cast as newer different characters that we find just as amazing as we did in 1977. Lucas found this a difficult task when he returned in 1999 with "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace"; it's hard not to fall back on those earlier characters.

Rian Johnson ("Looper", "The Brothers Bloom) takes over the director's seat from J.J. Abrams. He also wrote the story keeping in mind there is a shift from old to new. He brings back most of the surviving characters from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens". Kenny Baker (R2D2) died in 2016 and Carrie Fischer passed December 2016 after primary filming was completed.


This new episode turns the attention to Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she seeks to find out who she is; she has no idea who her family was. Oscar Issac's Poe character has officially joined the resistance and - because of his exploits in the last episode has earned a position high in the rebellion. John Boyega has survived but is injured in the infirmary. While Rey is seeking guidance from Luke Skywalker, the rebellion finds itself getting cornered by the First Order under the reins of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his sidekick Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).


Yes... just like "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" had a lot of similarities to the original "Star Wars: A New Hope", this second installment by Disney has far too many similarities to "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back".

Returning newer characters include Billie Lourd as Lt Connix who does little more than follow orders harked out by Leia (Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). There is a serious effort to draw together the strength of the women that just doesn't come off well; they are far too stiff and stagnant.


While Poe spins his wheels trying to make himself relevant, the most interesting new character is Benicio Del Toro as DJ. DJ is a profiteer, much like Han Solo was, but with a more self directed edge; he falls into the same line as Billy Dee Williams Lando Calrissian - just not as smooth. We also are introduced to Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a girl with a sympathetic story that might grow to be interesting, but for the moment is only filling space.


Supreme Leader Snoke fills in for Ian McDiarmid's Emperor. Seriously, much of what he says and does is too similar to The Emperor for you not to groan. He might have boosted power but he lacks the downright evil sneer that the Emperor had. And that pretty much describes the leaders of the First Order, they really aren't that menacing. Kylo Ren - even as described in the movie... is no Darth Vader. But there doe come a point in the film when it seems director Johnson realizes it's time to move the story and the characters forward and leave the 40-year old legends behind.


So we are left with what we hope is a perfect segue to the total reshaping of the good guys versus bad guys theme. Or we are left with a franchise that is spinning its wheels...hard to say which it is.


What the film lacks in originlity it makes up for in visual effects. Johnson does hold true to the Star Wars legacy of kick ass special effects.


"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is an entertaining film that is stuck somewhere between being a redo of "The Empire Strikes Back" and a perfect segue to a next episode that goes in a completely different direction with a younger cast.   -- GEOFF BURTON