In 2015, the Star Wars franchise roared back to life with The Force Awakens, the seventh overall film in the series and the beginning of an all new trilogy. It brought back familiar faces (such as Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew)) and themes from the original trilogy and used them to introduce viewers to new characters like heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley, who was seen last month in Murder on the Orient Express), former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega, co-star of this Summer’s Detroit), pilot Poe Dameron (the great Oscar Isaac, the only good thing about Suburbicon) and villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, who co-starred in Steven Soderbergh’s very funny Logan Lucky).
The new characters were integrated into the series’ mythology in a film that bore striking similarities to the first Star Wars film, 1977’s A New Hope, while still doing enough to set itself apart and create its own story for its new characters. Now that all of the nostalgia (or most of it anyway) is out of the way, that new story takes center-stage in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
When we last left the story, Rey, an orphan from a junk planet, had begun to discover her own latent Jedi powers after a battle with Han Solo and Leia’s son, who was now the Darth Vader-esque Kylo Ren. The film ended just as she had located the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who had been hiding out alone on a hard to find planet.
As The Last Jedi begins, Rey is trying to convince Luke to rejoin the rebellion as they battle The First Order. This leads to a lot of talk about the past and what it truly means to be a Jedi. Most significantly, revelations about Luke’s history with Kylo Ren changes Rey’s own feelings about the former Ben Solo and leads her to actions that will have a huge impact on the rest of the series (or, at the very least, the third film in this particular trilogy).
That is just one of three major storylines this film juggles during its 143 minute running time (not including the end credits). One involves Finn and ship mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as they travel to a casino planet to look for a master codebreaker who can help them on a mission to get onboard the evil Snoke’s (motion-capture genius Andy Serkis) ship. The third story focuses on Poe’s clashes with leadership (including Leia and two-time Oscar nominee Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo) as they try to figure out how to best protect everyone under their command.
As usual with Star Wars, there is a lot going on. Not only are these stories occurring simultaneously, they are all complex and they all impact each other. Unfortunately, what this means is that the first half of The Last Jedi is pretty slow moving. There is some action, but far more exposition. And some of it feels unnecessary. Specifically, Finn and Rose’s trip to the casino planet seemed pointless. There were aspects of the planet that looked cool, but it will not go down as one of the more impressive Star Wars locations. They introduce some new themes to the series here (specifically, ideas about class divide), but do not actually do anything with them. It is likely they are there to set things up for future films, but that does not make this sequence any more interesting. Additionally, large sections of Rey’s interaction with Luke feel redundant. That subplot could have been truncated while not losing any of its importance to the overall story.
All that being said, once the three major stories really kick into gear in The Last Jedi’s second half, the film becomes the fun, high octane adventure that is expected out of this particular series. And it is not just because of the action sequences.
This entry was written and directed by series newcomer Rian Johnson (who has now been given his own corner of the Star Wars universe to play in as he will write and direct his own spinoff trilogy) and the powers that be seem to have given him some leeway (within reason) with the material. A major complaint for some (and compliment for others) after The Force Awakens was how closely the film followed the structure of A New Hope. It was a very nostalgic feeling film. Coming into The Last Jedi, I was curious about how reminiscent this film would be of 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back. As it turns out, it sort of is.
Johnson does something very clever with implied references to the earlier film. Without giving anything away for those who have yet to see it, this film plays with familiar tropes from the series by introducing them and then deconstructing them. In The Force Awakens they reintroduced ideas from A New Hope and then reused them in slightly different ways. Here, certain ideas from The Empire Strikes Back are hinted at, and then turned upside down. In a way, this film can be seen as a critique on The Force Awakens and its heavy usage of nostalgia. Do not get me wrong; The Last Jedi is every bit a Star Wars movie. It is not like Johnson made an art film here. However, he does turn some of those clichés upside down, bringing up new possibilities for the story and making viewers see events in a different light.
Let’s be honest; you knew if you wanted to see this movie before you read this review. You have probably already seen it. And if you have not, you probably had already decided you were not going to. My opinion is not going to sway you either way. But here it is anyway: The Last Jedi is very good. I am not as intimately familiar with the franchise as some (though I have seen every film) but, after one viewing, I feel comfortable calling it one of the best films in the series. It has its issues, but overall it is entertaining, exciting and definitely the most thought-provoking of all the Star Wars films so far.
Generally speaking, I have been interested in seeing the next Star Wars film because I have enjoyed most of them. In this case, I am genuinely intrigued by the direction of the story.
4 out of 5
Daisy Ridley as Rey
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren
John Boyega as Finn
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker
Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa
Andy Serkis as Snoke
Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico
Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux
Benicio Del Toro as DJ
Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo
Anthony Daniels as C-3PO
Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson