In the interest of remaining SPOILER FREE, this review gives away nothing narratively-speaking.
“This is not going to go the way you think.”
These are words spoken by the great Jedi Master Luke Skywalker that perfectly sum up Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Picking up the mantle from J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson helms the latest iteration of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. How does it compare to the previous films?
For starters, I very much disliked both The Force Awakens, and Rogue One. The two most recent Star Wars films captured the look of Star Wars but none of the heart and soul. They were simple, hollow set pieces set against the backdrop of familiar music; the modern SW flicks also focused too much on nostalgia, arguably not adding enough zing of their own. The Last Jedi is different. The Last Jedi remains faithful to the Star Wars mythos, while reinventing, honoring, and enhancing on what has come before.
The story picks up with the Resistance — now again the Rebel alliance — continuing its struggle against the nefarious First Order, led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, doing his best inspired-by-Palpatine-alien). As per The Force Awakens doing its best to match A New Hope, The Last Jedi does a much better job at harkening back to The Empire Strikes Back without feeling like a lifted version. It hits similar beats (feeling like a reprise at time) but always in a new and interesting way. Johnson’s film offers impeccabble pace and captures more out of longer scenes than trying to hit too many jump-cuts.
At two-and-a-half hours, TLJ is also the longest film in the series. This works well for this particular story, allowing the film to breathe and conjur a previously unfelt Jedi emotion. Nothing feels rushed. The ideas presented in the film truly needed this runtime to soar. The story wistfully moves along, but on some — and very few — occasions does stall. Thankfully, this is a minor criticism that hardly detracts from the film’s overall tone.
The heart of The Last Jedi lies in, well, the heart. Feelings and emotions are at the center of this film–feelings (especially for the older Warsian generation) that were lacking from The Force Awakens and Rogue One. The movie offers feelings that unify our characters or tear them apart; feelings that are much more human and personal; feelings that reflect the original trilogy’s sheer reliance to move the story along.
Carrie Fisher, rest her soul, is phenomenal here. It’s nonetheless awesome to watch her portrayal as a seasoned and savvy general, coming from the young scrappy princess we all fell in love with. But, Mark Hamill steals the show. The film is at its best whenever Luke is on screen. And his relations to other characters in the film, a fantastic scene including R2, puts the wigglies in your belly. Hamill’s performance brings the heart back into Star Wars.
No “current-gen” character conjurs up as much emotion as Kylo Ren. If you hated his character before (hell, one poll had him less popular than fracking Jar-Jar), you’ll garner up as much if not twice the emotion for Adam Driver‘s Sith this time round — for the better. That’s right, Kylo might be the most improved character since the original trilogy and his journey is a rocking rollercoaster that will have your every bit emotion rolling. But, of course when it comes to emotions, nothing touches the scenes where our most cherished characters from the 80s meet once again. I even heard the Monsignor sniffling in the seat next to me because his fanboy heart was set ablaze. I can’t make fun though, my eyes were a little wet too.
John Williams continues to kick ass, as only John Williams can. The score does a fantastic job of balancing fresh songs and mixing reprisals of the classic themes once again, and he kicks the door down on many a scene that is damn near orgasmic.
A pair of minor quibbles: we’re not sure if it’s the purple dew, her overwhelming star presence, or lack of chemistry, but scenes featuring the usually terrific Laura Dern aren’t the best. While her role as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo winds up a lot less predictable than imagined, she feels like an unnecessary plot device that took me out of the film the few minutes she was on-screen. It’s also a little jarring to try and get used to the level of humor that’s been injected into the sequel trilogy. While many jokes are gut-busters — Luke, especially, kills with the dryer stuff we all love and quote from the O.G. trilogy — some of the quips fall flat, chiefly from the newer gen of SW characters. But again, the hit-and-miss humor shouldn’t take you out of this superior voyage.
All that points to the man who gave us the films Brick and the instant sci-fi classic Looper. Rian Johnson is to the Sequel trilogy what Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) was to the Original Trilogy — a gifted storyteller whose emphasis on character and emotion elevate the source material to fantastic heights.
By the end of TLJ you feel like you’ve been on a journey, and not just assaulted by the special effects. You’ll also feel a little more for the characters, their relationships, and their situations. In this sequel, the characters new and old will resonate a little more than mere entertainment.
With three major space battles that justify and honor the series, The Last Jedi ranks up there with the Original Trilogy — hey, maybe not as good as Empire (and what is?) but still pretty damn great.