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Spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Don’t worry Star Wars junkies. You’ll love The Last Jedi. Problem is, I’m not a Star Wars junkie – I’m just a casual fan – so (gasp!), I wasn’t as blown away by “Episode VIII” as the somewhat Comic-Con-obsessed crowd that I saw it with. Not that I didn’t enjoy most of my two-and-a-half hour visit to a galaxy far, far away. I just happened to like 2015’s nostalgia-fueled The Force Awakens a bit more. The Last Jedi picks up right where that one left off. The franchise’s young new heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds herself on a distant planet, face to face with the elusive Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). She’s there to return his light saber, get some Jedi training, and convince him to rejoin the Resistance led by his sister, Princess/General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher). You know the rest. I’m just kidding. You don’t, unless you’ve seen the film or read the spoilers. I’m not enough of an expert to know what constitutes a spoiler, so I’ll just err on the side of caution and keep it brief.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a beautifully crafted old-fashioned story about a young Irish immigrant coming to America in the 50s. Saoirse Ronan (Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel) plays Eilis who is struggling to find her place in Ireland and jumps at the chance to emigrate when Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) offers to set her up with a job and a place to live in Brooklyn. The excellent script by Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education) adapted from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel deftly mixes comedy, tragedy, and romance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ex Machina

In his directorial debut Alex Garland, the writer of 28 Days Later and Sunshine, has served up an intriguing minimalist sci-fi thriller that is more about what isn’t onscreen than what is. It’s a very simple story about an evil genius’s quest to design a sentient robot and the pawns he uses in the perfection of his plan. The cast of three (Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac) spends most of the film sequestered away in a remote house/research facility and the audience spends most of its time wondering if things can possibly end well, as layer upon layer of artifice is stripped away.