Category Archives: REVIEWS

TV Watch: Yellowstone

 

What is known today as the Paramount Network has a long and winding history in cable television.

Founded way back in 1983, it was known originally as “The Nashville Network“, with programming geared around a country music theme through 2000. Over the next few years, the network changed names a number of times in an attempt to lure a younger audience.

In 2003, the network changed its name to “Spike TV“, moving away from the country genre and instead gearing its programming directly to a male audience. It eventually settled in as just plain, old “Spike” from 2006-18, with another change in 2010 emphasizing reality programming.

On January 18, 2018 the network re-launched as “Paramount Network“, moving its headquarters to the Paramount Pictures studio lot in Hollywood. The parent company, Viacom, is hoping to position it as a direct competitor to networks such as FX and AMC by highlighting original programming.

Much as AMC did with “Mad Men” in 2007 and “Breaking Bad” the following year, Paramount is hoping that its first original drama will catch the attention of viewers. That drama is “Yellowstone“, and as with those now classic AMC offerings, it absolutely hits the mark.

Yellowstone” initially drew me in with the star power of two-time Oscar winning motion picture legend Kevin Costner as the lead actor.

Now 64-years-old, Costner plays John Dutton, owner of the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch, a cattle ranch which is billed as “the largest contiguous ranch in the United States.” Dutton is also patriarch of a clan that includes his three children and a grandson.

Kayce Dutton is played by Luke Grimes. A former U.S. Navy Seal who lives on a neighboring Indian reservation as the series opens with his Native American wife, Monica, and their young son, Tate. Many will remember Grimes from his roles in the film “Sniper“, as well as the “Fifty Shades” film series and ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” series.

Wes Bentley portrays the other son, Jamie Dutton. He is a lawyer and politician who finds himself alternately loyal to and at odds with his family. Bentley is a familiar face who has starred in a number of high-profile roles, including in the “American Horror Story” series on AMC, as well as in films such as “American Beauty“, “Interstellar“, and “The Hunger Games.

Jamie is most frequently at odds with his sister, John’s lone daughter, Beth Dutton, played in an often scene-stealing role by Kelly Reilly. A veteran and acclaimed English actress, Reilly may be best known to American audiences for her role as Vince Vaughn’s wife in the second season of “True Detective” on HBO.

The fiery redhead is the financier of the brood and the most fiercely loyal to her father. However, she also flaunts her sexuality, and has a substance abuse issue which frequently overpowers her common sense.

Cole Hauser has a pivotal role as Rip Wheeler. A true cowboy in every sense, Rip is the longtime head of the Yellowstone ranch hands and a sometimes lover of Beth. He is the single most loyal person at the entire operation to John, the quintessential go-to guy who will literally do anything for his boss, and who is almost considered a fourth sibling.

The drams centers around the interactions of the main characters with one another, as well as their wider interpersonal and professional relationships. However, there is also much happening with the show’s other leading character as well – that being the ranch itself.

Set among the vast natural beauty of Montana and Utah, the Yellowstone Ranch is the center of a number of conflicts involving the neighboring ‘Broken Rock’ tribal Indian reservation, land developers looking to build homes and casinos, and the government looking to preserve and police the Yellowstone National Park.

David Hale, who portrayed a squeaky-clean deputy sheriff in the series “Sons of Anarchy” on FX, created this new series and directed all of the episodes in the first season, which premiered in June 2018. Season two then debuted almost exactly a year later.

The series has been renewed now for a third season, likely coming in early summer of 2020, and the already fantastic cast will be getting some new star power as well.

Josh Holloway, known to most for his award-winning role as James “Sawyer” Ford on the ABC drama “Lost” comes on board as an ambitious hedge fund manager.

Also joining the cast will be three-time Emmy Award-winning actress Jennifer Landon, daughter of famed star Michael Landon. She will portray a new female wrangler at the ranch.

In a wide-ranging interview with Mike Fleming Jr for Deadline back in May 2019, Costner commented on his role with “Yellowstone” moving forward:

“Yellowstone moves fast, and sometimes I am not privy to where it’s all going. It keeps with the promise you make, to create images and words that you never, ever forget. That’s what happens when movies are at their best.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oT-PGjlNM-c

This is cinematic caliber television at its very best. Gorgeous landscapes framed beautifully serve as the backdrop for top-caliber acting at nearly every turn, and a major star as the series lead.

“Yellowstone” is television as it should be, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has not yet enjoyed the first two seasons and 19 episodes. You can stream them here at the Paramount Network website for free by logging in through your cable provider.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: America, the Last Best Hope

 

If your child attends an American public school that teaches them a U.S. history course, take a look some time at their text book.

Assuming you are someone who actually believes that the teaching of this subject matters, you just might be shocked.

For decades now, many American educational systems have been moving away from teaching a genuine history of the United States. Instead, a politically correct and sanitized version is often taught, highlighting episodes within that history that are important to so-called progressives.

In a January 2017 article for the New York Post titled “Why schools have stopped teaching American history“, Karol Markowicz included the following:

A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history.

The NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. Their goal is to help students, parents, teachers, and principals “inform decisions about how to improve the education system in our country.”

If any educational system in the country truly wants to present American history to high school students, even any college or university, they would do well to use  “America: The Last Best Hope” by Bill Bennett.

Bennett released the title in a first volume back in 2006. That book covered the period from Columbus in 1492 through the lead-up to World War I in 1914.

The 573 pages in the original volume are packed with 525 of actual history. It also includes a five-page introduction from the author and a comprehensive notes and index at the back.

Volume I includes topics such as the settlement of the New World, the revolution of the colonies, the founding and early years of the American republic, westward expansion, the Civil War, post-war reconstruction, and the emergence of American industrialism.

In 2007, Bennett released “Volume 2”, which picked up where the first book left off and covered most of the 20th century, right through the 1989 end of Ronald Reagan’s second presidential term.

With “Volume 2”, the topics included World Wars I and II, with the roaring 20’s, stock market crash, the Great Depression, the rise of worldwide fascism, and FDR’s ‘New Deal’ in between.

It then moves through the post-war era, the rise of American political and economic might during the 1950’s, the social turmoil of the 1960’s, the politically turbulent 1970’s, and finally into the Reagan revival.

In it’s 592 pages there can be found another 533 pages of history, with just a short introduction, but with the same comprehensive notes and index provided with the first volume.

In 2011, Bennett returned to the series, including American history from “the collapse of communism to the rise of radical Islam” in a more brief 352 page continuation.

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Bill Bennett turned 76 years of age on July 31, 2019. He is a graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, with a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, and a J.D. from Harvard University.

One of the most respected political theorists and pundits of the last three decades, Bennett was chairman for the National Endowment of the Humanities from 1981-85. He then served in President Reagan’s cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Education from 1985-88, and held the position of Director of the Office of National Drug Policy under the first President Bush.

The author of more than two dozen books, Bennett is currently a senior advisor to Project Lead the Way, which is considered to be one of the leading providers of training and curriculum to improve STEM education in American schools. He is involved in numerous other educational causes as well.

Due to be released in October of this year is a massive new edition of “America: The Last Best Hope“, which will integrate all three of the original volumes into one book.

All three volumes were not only informative, but each was genuinely enjoyable to read. This new, fully integrated edition would make an outstanding text book for any legitimate class on United States history.

However, this is not to be considered as only that – a text book for intellectual pursuits. Bennett has put together a tremendous history of America from its very beginnings right up through recent years that is readable and enjoyable for everyone.

I highly recommend “America: The Last Best Hope” for anyone who loves our nation, and for anyone who truly wants a well-written, all-encompassing history of the United States.

Buy it in the three original volumes and enjoy one at a time, as I did, or wait for the new concatenated version to be released in October. That version will be available in hard cover, paperback, or for your device, and can be pre-ordered now at Amazon and many other outlets.

And if you are a fan of Bennett who would like something a bit more collector-worthy (not to mention expensive), well, there is a beautiful leather-bound version of the first two volumes available from The Easton Press at that link, autographed by the author.

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates

Embed from Getty Images

 

I recently returned to my first love in reading topics: history and biography. While fiction can be extremely enjoyable, especially when done well, I have always found the true, non-fiction stories of real people and events much more interesting.

That return to true history results here in my latest book review. For the first time in nearly four years, it does not involve the topic of baseball.
Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates” was published in 2015 by Penguin Random House’s ‘Sentinel’ imprint.
This joint effort of Fox News host Brian Kilmeade and author Don Yeager tells the story of “the forgotten war that changed American history.
That war is what many students of U.S. history know as the ‘First Barbary War‘, which, as the book jacket explains, “is the little known story of how a newly independent nation was challenged by four Muslim powers and what happened when America’s third president decided to stand up to intimidation.
America’s first four Presidents played key roles in the events leading up to and during the conflict. But George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison are largely secondary figures to the real military and diplomatic heroes and villains who took part in the action.
Following the War for Independence, the newly formed United States of America was saddled with enormous debt and had largely disbanded its military. This was particularly true in the area of naval force.
America was protected from more established world powers of that time primarily by distance and trade agreements. It had little or no influence on the high seas.
In trying to further those trade efforts, American merchant ships would frequently come under attack in the Mediterranean Sea by the Muslim powers of North Africa. These ‘Barbary States’ nations practiced state-supported piracy in order to exact tribute from weaker Atlantic powers.
American ships would be raided, and their goods stolen by Muslim crews. At times, the ships and their crews would be taken and held hostage for large ransoms.
The fledgling United States had no response other than to pay those ransoms. But this only further added to the national debt. Also, the problem wasn’t being dealt with in any meaningful way. It just kept happening, with no end in sight.
The United States wasn’t the only nation facing these issues. Wealthier countries with an actual naval presence in the region simply paid tribute to the Muslim leaders in order to ensure free passage of their ships.
Adams, a Federalist, and Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican, were political adversaries. Those differences extended to their views on dealing with the Barbary powers.
The second President of the United States, Adams thought it possible to continue to buy peace, as was done by other nations. Jefferson, America’s third President, wanted to end that system permanently. He preferred a strong military response.
As Kilmeade and Yeager write:
In response to events on the Barbary Coast, Jefferson, in 1801, had dispatched a small U.S. Navy squadron to the Mediterranean. For the next four years, he responded to circumstances, expanding the fleet to a much larger naval presence. In the end, thanks to the bold leadership of men like Edward Preble, James and Stephen Decatur, and William Eaton, and Presley Neville O’Bannon, military force had helped regain national honor. Even the Federalists, who liked little that Jefferson did, came to accept that the United States needed to play a military role in overseas affairs.
The book is the story of those men: Preble, the Decatur’s, Eaton, and O’Bannon and many more as they battled on land and sea to help a new nation stand up for itself on the world stage.
The United States Marine Corps played a key role in the ultimate victory. This was the war from which came the USMC hymn line “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli, we fight our country’s battles in the air, on land and sea.
As the authors state, this war against radical Muslim powers was one which we still, in many ways, are fighting today. It is a pivotal story of the immediate post-Revolutionary War, post-U.S. Constitution period. It is a story that all Americans should know.
Kilmeade and Yeager tell that story in just over 200 easy to read pages chock full of historic drama. Their book includes maps, notes, and a complete rundown of the cast of characters involved in that drama. It will make an enjoyable and educational read for any fan of history, especially of American history.
 

Book Review: Two new books on President Trump

Embed from Getty Images

 

Two books penned by folks with access to the White House in the early days of the Trump administration have begun to fly off book shelves and online stores.

Each paints a picture of, at least in the early transitional weeks and months, a top-level staff surrounding the President that, while intelligent and talented, was seriously flawed and certainly not functioning as a team.

Sitting in the #8 slot (with a bullet) on the current New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller book list is Let Trump Be Trump” by Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.

Released today, Fire and Fury” by Michael Wolff is sure to quickly enter and rise towards the top of that list as well.

The two books deal with the same subject matter – Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States.Lewandowski and Bossie were two of Trump’s most intimate campaign advisors as he captured first the Republican nomination and then won the general election in 2016.

Their respect and admiration for the man, at least as a candidate and as a leader, appears to be beyond doubt, as revealed in this snippet from their tome:

“…Donald J. Trump is the greatest big-game player in American political history. Period. There is no second. None. Not in modern times. No one is even close. If you disagree, show us someone who has never run for office before, and watch him become the leader of the free world in spite of the media, some of the Republican establishment, and the Democratic Party all being against him. We’ll argue with you any day of the week.”

There was volatility in the early months of the Trump administration as top officials came and went with alarming regularity. This was with the notable exception of the fiercely loyal Kellyanne Conway, who always had the trust of the President.

“In the coming months, we would watch as the fundamental flaw in the Trump White House made it shake and crumble, until the whole thing split in two with the American people watching. First out  of the White House was General Mike Flynn, followed by Katie Walsh and shortly thereafter Sean Spicer. They were followed closely by Reince Preibus. Sebastian Gorka has left…We watched Anthony Scaramucci flame out…and now, (Steve) Bannon, too, is gone.”

But as Lewandowski and Bossie point out, that volatility was mostly a by-product of a man who was not a politician, who was not used to putting together a political team, being suddenly thrust into such a role.

He’s not, nor will he ever be, a politician in the traditional sense of that word. And he is not someone who goes back on his word. For Donald Trump loyalty is the currency of the realm, and nothing hurts him deeper than when someone he trusts is disloyal.

Wolff is a columnist and author who, thanks to a series of pro-Trump pieces during the campaign, was able to gain the confidence of enough staffers that he could frequently camp out in the West Wing during the first year of the Trump presidency.

The liberal news media have been parading Wolff out for interviews at any opportunity, as his book paints the President in a far less favorable light. This is, as we have all learned by now, in lock-step with their own anti-Trump agenda.

Wolff puts his own spin on the very first days of the Trump team in a piece for New York magazine released to accompany the book just two days ago:

Here, arguably, was the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: He didn’t process information in any conventional sense. He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-­literate. He trusted his own expertise ­— no matter how paltry or irrelevant — more than anyone else’s. He was often confident, but he was just as often paralyzed, less a savant than a figure of sputtering and dangerous insecurities, whose instinctive response was to lash out and behave as if his gut, however confused, was in fact in some clear and forceful way telling him what to do. It was, said (Deputy Chief of Staff Katie) Walsh, “like trying to figure out what a child wants.”

Unlike the Lewandowski/Bossie book, which is a first-hand account of the campaign from two men who were actually working inside and having daily conversations with Trump, the Wolff book is largely his opinion of what was happening during the first year of the administration. This opinion was allegedly drawn from conversations that Wolff claims to have had with staffers.

Wolff addresses this himself in the introduction to the book pic.twitter.com/4gSebnhJCB

— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) January 3, 2018

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It’s important to note what that Tweet by Benjy Sarlin of NBC News (no friends of Trump) says is contained in the introduction to Wolff’s book. “Many of the accounts…are baldly untrue” and “In other instances I have…settled on a version of events I believe to be true.

Whether predisposed to be defenders of President Trump or not, numerous folks have come out publicly charging that Wolff’s credibility is open to challenge. Some believe that allowing him any access to the White House was representative of the old “fox in a hen house” analogy.

In a “Fourth Estate” piece on Thursday for Politico, Jack Shafer opined:

“Wolff’s penetration of the White House presents two equally damning conclusions about Trump – that he’s too much of an egoist to care who might be loitering around the White House, gathering string on him, and that he’s too incurious about the world to spot a potential danger to his presidency.”

As pointed out by Kieran Corcoran of Business Insider, sources cited by Wolff in his book have come out publicly and “disputed claims made made about them.” These include former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and longtime Vogue editor Anna Wintour.

As Lewandowski and Bossie point out, President Trump is not a typical politician. In fact, that was one of his major selling points to the Republican voters who handed him a surprisingly easy primary victory, and who swarmed to the polls in November of 2016.

Though he has built an enviable business empire, Trump has learned the hard way that building a political administrative team can be far more difficult. Just as he had to do at times in his role as a boss in business, Trump has found that he is going to have to fire people, or otherwise ease them out.

When it becomes clear that certain folks are not acting in the best interests of his team, in forwarding his agenda, they have to go. When this becomes obvious, Trump is unafraid to act. Both of these books make that clear.

Now, which book are you going to purchase and read, if not both? That is likely to be driven by your own already formed opinion of the President.

If you are positively disposed to the man and his policies and/or are interested in a history lesson on the inside story of an outsider rising to the highest office in the land, then you will add “Let Trump Be Trump” to your book shelf.

If you are in the camp that feels he is an abomination to the office and the nation, then “Fire and Fury” will be on your nightstand.

One thing is sure, no matter what your opinion of the President. During his first year in office, Trump has accomplished or is pushing forward the exact agenda on which he ran.

Rolling back numerous Obama-era policies and programs, reducing burdensome regulation, re-directing the courts back towards Constitutional originalists. Leading the fight on tax reform, directing tougher immigration policies and actions.

Despite the high-level staff turnovers, the Trump agenda continues to march forward. The man himself is the one indispensable piece to the puzzle. He is the unquestioned leader of what has quickly proven to be a winning team.

Trump is to this administration and its agenda what, as Lewandowski and Bossie compare him, Tom Brady is to the New England Patriots. Other pieces may come and go over time, but as long as Brady is leading them, the Pats are a Super Bowl contender. The analogy to this White House works well.

Me? I’m much more a history fan. I enjoy reading actual insider accounts of real events told by folks who were present when they happened, such as Lewandowski and Bossie. I am not at all a fan of gossipy sensationalism of the type released by Wolff.

These are not the first books written about Trump or his rise to the presidency. They will certainly not be the last. Two books, one POTUS, and more for supporters and detractors alike to digest regarding the most fascinating person to ever hold the office of President of the United States.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Embed from Getty Images

 

My wife and I had the pleasure of taking in a preview showing last night of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi“, which officially opens in theatres on Friday, December 15, 2017.

There are going to be many spoilers in this review, but they don’t start just yet. Consider this opening sort of like the seemingly endless commercials and previews that accompany every motion picture these days. If you don’t want to know the actual film storyline, I’ll let you know when those spoilers are coming.

Before getting into the film, a little personal background on the two people doing the viewing. You see, we come at the entire Star Wars series and phenomenon from completely different places. Those differences result in my wife and I viewing from completely different perspectives.

When the original film “Star Wars” was released in 1977, I was a highly impressionable 15-year old boy. I was just beginning to explore the broader world around me outside of the little South Philly neighborhood where I was growing up.

My wife, on the other hand, was a 22-year old young woman that summer. She had already started in the working world, and her interests had become much more focused on adult pursuits.

That 15-year old me related strongly to the young Luke Skywalker, who was supposed to be just an older teen himself at that point. Luke was portrayed by Mark Hammill, and the character dreamt of a bigger reality beyond the confines of the comforting yet bland existence in which he was raised.

I went along happily with Luke and his new friends, Princess Leia Organa (who we would later find out was Luke’s twin sister) and smuggler Han Solo on a series of adventures. Luke was on a quest to find his purpose, and to engage in the battles taking place out there in the larger universe, not unlike my teenage self.

The first film, and the two sequels that followed in that original trilogy, drew tens of millions of us into a world of empire and rebellion. In fact, the original 1977 “Star Wars” film, now known as “The New Hope” within the context of the series, remains the only movie that I ever paid to see more than once at the box office.

It was all highlighted by the ultimate battle between the good and light of The Force, and the lure of The Dark Side. It is a familiar struggle, one that has visited each of our real lives as we continually find ourselves in a tug-of-war with good and evil forces, both external and internal.

I did not see those original films with my wife, we had not yet met, so we never got to share that experience. Her exposure to the “Star Wars” franchise was far less intense than my own. While mine was more personal, hers was based more on what was seeping into the broader culture. So her reaction to these films is never as visceral as my own.

Flash forward a couple of decades, and we would get to share my love of the franchise by seeing all three of the prequel films together between 1999 and 2005. That trilogy revealed the story of how Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala, Luke and Leia’s parents, got together.

The prequels also told how the friendship and mentor-student relationship between Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker deteriorated, leading to the latter ultimately turning to the Dark Side and becoming Darth Vader.

The prequels set the stage in a timeline for the action in the original film series, which ended with “Return of the Jedi” in 1983.

This new series of films picks up the story decades later. The evil Galactic Empire, defeated thanks to the intervention of Luke and his allies in the original films, is re-emerging as the First Order and threatening the benevolent New Republic.

To set the stage for the latest film, the new series began with “The Force Awakens” in 2015. In it we get caught up with our old heroes, Han and Leia. They had gotten married, had a son, fought together to maintain peace in the galaxy, and but then later separated as a couple.

Now aging, Leia had turned in her previous royal title of Princess to become a General, leader of the New Republic’s armed forces. Han had returned to his more familiar and comfortable role of working with co-pilot and sidekick Chewbacca in transporting and smuggling various shipments across the galaxy.

The First Order, an extreme Nazi-like power, was emerging as a genuine threat to galactic peace. Their goal was nothing less than to destroy the New Republic and replace it with tyrannic rule of their own. Leia attempts to locate Luke, who has mysteriously become a hidden recluse, in order to bring the Jedi back into the conflict on the side of her Resistance forces in battling the First Order.

“The Force Awakens” also introduces us to a new generation of characters. Poe Dameron is the greatest fighter pilot in the Resistance forces. With the aid of his orange and white droid, BB-8, Poe is sent to locate the final segment of a map that will lead to Luke.

A stormtrooper known as FN-2187 becomes a defector from the First Order. He joins up with Poe, who dislikes the impersonal number and bestows the name ‘Finn’ on him.

Rey is a loner on Jakku, a seemingly inconsequential lost girl on a middle-of-nowhere planet. She was abandoned by her parents as a small child, and his now scavenging just to get by from day to day.

Finally, the new trilogy introduces a new villain who goes by the name of Kylo Ren. We learn fairly quickly that he was originally Ben Solo, son of Han and Leia. Ben was strong in The Force and was sent to train with his uncle Luke to become a Jedi.

But the Dark Side, which lured away his grandfather (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader), would turn Ben as well. He would take the name “Kylo Ren” from a mysterious ‘Knights of Ren’ group that he would join. He was then further lured towards the Dark Side under Supreme Leader Snoke, the leader of the First Order.

Now, real spoilers begin here for anyone who has not seen either of “The Force Awakens” or “The Last Jedi” films. Read no further, or prepare to have the key plot lines revealed.

As we saw in “Awakens”, Kylo ultimately kills his father, Han Solo. Meanwhile, it is revealed that The Force is extremely strong with Rey, hinting at some background that is still to be revealed for her character. She meets Finn, who becomes immediately and almost instinctively protective of her.

Leia’s Resistance fighters begin to defend the New Republic against the attacks of the First Order, led by Kylo and General Hux, who commands the First Order’s more conventional forces.

It is revealed that there is a strong pull within The Force that draws Rey and Kylo to one another, and they will ultimately engage in an epic light-saber duel. She wins, but before she can finish him off, fate allows him to escape.

As the map to Luke is finally fully recovered, Rey is sent by Leia to find him and convince him to return from his self-imposed exile. That is basically where “Awakens” leaves us off.

“The Last Jedi” is written and directed by Rian Johnson, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Ram Bergman. It begins with Poe leading the Resistance in a somewhat successful but also foolhardy military mission that gets a number of Resistance fighters killed. Poe is demoted for his recklessness by Leia, who is then herself blasted into unconsciousness by the military might of the First Order.

Meanwhile, we flash to Rey back on the island at the exact moment where “Awakens” had left off. Unfortunately, she finds that Luke is almost violently disinterested in any type of return to battle. This becomes a main focus of “Last Jedi”: Rey trying to convince him to return, Luke resisting.

With Leia incapacitated, leadership of the Resistance passes down their chain of command to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern. It’s been quite the year for Dern, who joines this iconic franchise after her featured role in the “Twin Peaks” revival this past summer.

Finn, who was seriously injured at the end of “Awakens” by Kylo, regains consciousness, and rejoins the fight against the First Order. Finn, Poe, BB-8, and a new character named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) then team up to more aggressively challenge the First Order after Admiral Holdo takes a path of apparently passive resistance.

With Finn’s knowledge of the inner workings of First Order tactics and equipment, they devise a plan to destroy the lead First Order ship which is laying siege to the Resistance vessels.

Their plan is for Finn, Rose, and BB-8 to secretly board the ship and take out its tracking system. Poe would convince Holdo that the last of the Resistance fleet’s fuel could be then used to escape.

The group is instructed by Maz Kanata, a diminutive and large-goggled cantina owner who was introduced in “Awakens”, to seek out a computer expert “slicer” who could help them to sneak on board the First Order vessel. They are directed to a casino on a nearby planet to find this person.

Finn and Rose are taken into custody at the casino and tossed in a jail cell where they meet ‘DJ’ (Benicio Del Toro), who does indeed help them infiltrate the ship. Unfortunately, he also turns on them, delivering Finn and Rose into the hands of the ruthless Captain Phasma.

While all that is going on, Poe leads a mutiny back at the Resistance. Holdo has given an “abandon ship” order which Poe sees as leading the group to sure destruction. As usual, he is jumping the gun, and is put in his place by a revived Leia.

In the Rey-Luke storyline, she yields herself to the Dark Side, only to find that it holds no answers for her. Luke is visited by the spirit of his own teacher, Yoda, and is inspired to give some basic Jedi training to Rey.

Luke also confides in Rey with the story of Kylo Ren. The Force was strong in young Ben Solo, and so Luke had taken his nephew along with a small group of others to train as Jedi knights. But Luke sensed the growing and inevitable pull of the Dark Side in Ben. This led to a confrontation between the two, and with Ben destroying the old Jedi temple, killing some of his fellow trainees before fleeing with others to join the First Order.

Rey was told a completely different version of this confrontation by Kylo. She was becoming more and more conflicted between Luke’s resigned hesitancy and Kylo’s charismatic but dark leanings. She believed firmly that if she could only meet with him face to face, that she could turn Kylo back to the light.

That meeting would take place, and would lead to Kylo delivering Rey to Snoke. When Snoke is unable to convert Rey, he orders Kylo to kill her, thus surpassing his grandfather Darth Vader by completing Kylo’s own full turn to the Dark Side.

Instead, Kylo strikes down Snoke, and together he and Rey fight and overcome Snoke’s eilite force of personal guards. Just when we thought this might be the beginning of Kylo’s return to Ben, just when it looked as if Rey might successfully rehabilitate him, it all turns again.

With Snoke and his guards out of the way, and with his own power growing, Kylo saw this as his chance to rule the galaxy. He proposed an alliance with Rey in which they would overcome both the First Order and the Resistance, and rule alongside one another.

This was not her vision, and so Rey was having none of it. Unable to convince him to join the Resistance, Rey and Kylo put their powers to the test in a battle of wills through use of The Force.

Neither is able to overcome the other, and Rey escapes to help the Resistance. Kylo overpowers General Hux and declares himself as the Supreme Leader, replacing Snoke, and leaves to destroy the Resistance once and for all.

Those Resistance forces appear to run out of time. Holdo and Leia’s escape plan has been discovered, and their ships are being picked off one by one.

It dawns on Holdo that there is but one way out of the situation. In a suicide mission, Holdo flies the main Resistance ship directly into the lead First Order vessel at light speed, slicing it in two as she sacrifices herself.

This was the very same ship that Finn, Rose, and BB-8 were on board and trying to sabotage. As the ship begins to disintegrate around them, Finn is confronted by Phasma, and the two engage in a showdown of their own which ends in her demise. Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are able to then flee the doomed vessel and re-join the Resistance.

In the final battle, the Resistance has taken refuge on a secluded planet. But the First Order finds them and quickly over-matches them with superior military might. Leia and the survivors find themselves cornered inside a reinforced cave with the First Order about to deliver a final blow.

Suddenly, in walks Luke Skywalker. After a brief reunion with Leia, he marches out like some wild west gunslinger to take on the full might of Kylo and the First Order all by himself. Unable to defeat Luke with conventional weapons, Kylo realizes that he will have to fight this battle himself.

This sets up a mano a mano between Luke and Kylo in which Luke delivers a warning that echoes one given decades earlier by Obi-Wan to Vader: “If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Luke succeeds in buying time for the Resistance to escape from the cave. They do so with the help of Rey and her growing abilities to draw upon the power of The Force. We leave Leia, Rey, Finn and the others as they flee aboard the Millenium Falcon.

Kylo suddenly realizes that he has been fighting with a Force-projected image of Luke, not the real person. We are left with him frustrated the he was unable to kill the real Luke, and that the Resistance has escaped.

Luke has fulfilled his destiny. He passed along the fundamental secrets of The Force to a new generation in Rey, and thus Luke will not end up as the last of the Jedi after all. We watch as he finally dissolves as a physical being, dying in peace and becoming one with The Force.

The film has wrapped up all of the story lines at this point, but still has one final scene with which to tantalize us. It shows a small group of children back on Canto Bight, the planet where Finn and his group had visited the casino earlier. These young stable hands had aided in Finn and Rose’s escape.

A small boy in the group is shown using rudimentary powers of The Force to retrieve a broom. He then uses the broom to make motions of a light saber as he looks up at the stars.

We are thus left with the vision of a younger generation that has been inspired to one day join the Resistance, and with the hope that The Force will once again be a force for good in helping lead their cause.

That is where we will pick up with Episode IX, slated for a December 2019 release. That film was originally intended to feature a larger role for Carrie Fisher as Leia. Of course, we know that Fisher died almost exactly one year ago. She had finished filming all of her scenes for “Last Jedi” by that point, so “Last Jedi” will be her last appearance.

When we return to the series, we will certainly find Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, and Chewie as key figures in trying to restor the Republic, battling against Kylo and his New Order. I’m sure there will be some appropriate resolution for Leia’s character as well.

Will Luke return as a Yoda-like figure to guide Rey? Will there be a satisfying resolution to the Rey-Kylo relationship? Will there be a heartfelt romance between any of the characters? Will there be new characters? We’ll have to wait two years to find out.

Now, that takes care of a recap of the story. So how would I rate it, and what criticisms, if any, would I have?

I prefaced this piece with my own history in following the “Star Wars” saga. That history takes me back four decades to my youth. I need to say this: I am not an unbiased source. I am a big fan. I don’t wear costumes, don’t read the books or comics, don’t play the video games. I don’t watch the animated series. But the films and their story will always be a part of me.

I loved the original trilogy. I enjoyed the prequels, which gained a measure of criticism from many Star Wars fans. And I can also say the same now regarding “The Last Jedi” and its “The Force Awakens” predecessor.

The prequels and the new trilogy do not hold the same romanticism for me as the original trilogy. That is no fault of the films. It is simply a reflection of my having grown older. The characters of Luke, Leia, and Han, even Darth Vader, are iconic because they came first. They started what has grown into a generational phenomenon.

As ground-breaking as the visual effects were from that original trilogy in their time, the newer films offer so much more in the way of special effects. Modern technological advances make any type of creature, world, and weapon a reality confined only by the imaginations of the creative team working on each film.

If I have any criticisms, there would be two. First, I found myself wishing that there was greater reliance on the actors and their skill in developing relationships and dialogue. The films try to balance that element with the special effects of the battles. For me, I would prefer fewer special effects-enhanced fights and more dramatic acting scenes.

Second, in this particular film it felt like too much story was being scattered around too many characters. I would much rather have seen more of a relationship develop, more teaching take place, with Luke and Rey than was actually shown in the film.

Daisy Ridley as Rey is clearly the breakout star of this new trilogy. She is captivating in the role whenever she hits the screen. I felt that she was under-utilized in this latest film. I would, for instance, have been interested in seeing a more interesting background story developed for her, something that reveals a reason for the strength of The Force in her.

Same goes for Oscar Isaac’s character of Poe. This has been a character with a great deal of potential, but one who has been reduced to a stereotype of the insanely gifted but undisciplined maverick fly boy. Picture Tom Cruise from “Top Gun”, only in outer space. Poe could have been a modern Han Solo, but that ship may have sailed.

I was never really sold on John Boyega in the Finn role. A supporting role, sure. But he is cast as a major character, and I just don’t find him to be leading man material.

We are also through two films now, and I don’t see a legitimate romance. The sexual tension, first as a triangle between Luke, Leia, and Han, and ultimately in the Han-Leia relationship, helped cement the “heart” felt in the original trilogy by the audience.

Who is that supposed to be here? Rey and Finn? Finn and Rose? It seems as if those have been tried and found lacking. Rey-Finn feels more like the brother-sister relationship of Luke-Leia than a romance. Finn-Rose might happen, but I simply don’t find it all that interesting.

The relationship between Rey and Kylo seems almost dirty, and not in a sexual way. While it appeared as if each might have briefly thought of the other in that way during a fleeting moment in “Last Jedi”, it seemed as if they immediately realized what went through all of our minds: “No.”

The most interesting hope for a romance to develop might end up being Rey-Poe. The two characters finally meet towards the end of this one, and there seems to be a quick spark. But it was indeed quick. There was no real conversation between the two, and nothing is made of a relationship.

Kennedy was hand-picked by the creator of this world and these characters, George Lucas, to carry the torch forward. She needs to try something to recapture the magic. Perhaps with the return of J.J. Abrams to direct Episode IX, we will find Star Wars getting back to those roots.

For old school Star Wars fans, there are definitely some great retro nuggets in this one. The aforementioned Luke nod to Obi-Wan. Our old buddy R2D2 cues up a video of one of the original trilogy’s greatest hits for Luke. There is an actual appearance from Yoda, and we hear the ethereal voice of Obi-Wan. Luke takes the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, finds the gold dice that Han had hung there, and reminisces over his old friend.

Looking back on the nostalgic aspects that were heavy in “Last Jedi”, they also served as a reminder that we missed out on something that I would love to have seen. Due to the choices made in the “Awakens” storyline, there would never be a reunion of Luke, Leia, and Han all together.

I recommend that everyone who has ever called themselves a Star Wars fan should go see “The Last Jedi” as soon as possible. It continues the story, opening with the now iconic musical strains of John Williams and the introductory word scroll. You get to watch Leia and Han reunite. You will see R2D2, C3PO, Yoda, Chewbacca, the Millenium Falcon. It pushes forward the newer generation story of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo, and BB-8.

What do I want to see in a finale in 2019? I want a Rey-heavy film, one that sees her fully learn the powers of The Force. I want to see the return of the Jedi – not a repeat of that film, but a rebirth of the Jedi knights. I want to see Kylo as clearly and unambiguously on the Dark Side. I want to see a realistic Rey interpersonal relationship developed, perhaps with Poe.

I would love to see a Luke cameo as Rey’s spiritual Yoda-like teacher. I want to see good defeat evil. I want to see the First Order defeated and the Republic restored. I want to see Rey defeat Kylo, though not necessarily kill him.

Finally, I would actually like to see the ending have something that leaves the door open, that allows the folks at Disney to perhaps revisit the series a few years down the road. I mean, what is life without the hope of a Star Wars fix coming at some point?

I wouldn’t know. For me, the events which took place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away have always been there. I’d love a new hope, one where I might continue to enjoy this series for years to come.