Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a sprawling, character-driven epic that picks up where Star Wars: The Force Awakens left off. Furthermore, this eighth episode guides the series into unfamiliar territory. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) fills the story with surprises and twists that don’t violate the internal logic of George Lucas’ creation, and when they seem to, it’s because the mythology of that universe has expanded in some minute but significant way.
The first part of The Last Jedi oscillates between two main threads: the remnants of the Resistance (led by Carrie Fisher’s Leia) fleeing the First Order, and Rey (Daisy Ridley) on the planet Ahch-To attempting to draw self-exiled Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammill) out of his grief at failing to jumpstart a new Jedi Order and rejoin the Resistance. The First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) has plans for Rey and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). While not a great villain (he’s a bit too much of a standard-issue evil overlord type), he’s quite the chess player, as is Johnson.
Despite being comprised of variations on themes we’ve seen a myriad of times (whether though Star Wars films or those inspired by Star Wars) since 1977, The Last Jedi manages to maneuver in unexpected ways. For instance, the entire film revolves a conflict where the goal is not to win but to survive. Johnson then strings a series of mini-missions to this main conflict, all of which either move the villains or heroes closer to their goals or fail miserably. The story is essentially a series of lengthy climaxes that resolve old business and introduce new conflicts.
Throughout this film, Johnson gives veteran characters (namely Chewbacca and R2-D2) and those who debuted in “The Force Awakens” (Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron has far more to do here) enough screen time to move their characters along while also introducing new faces (Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose; Laura Dern’s tough and serene Resistance Admiral; a hacker played by Benicio del Toro).
However, there was one storyline that I felt dragged the pacing down: Rose and Finn’s (John Boyega) journey to the casino planet Canto Bight. Every time this subplot was onscreen, I found myself wishing that we could get back to the telepathic conversations between Rey and Kylo, Luke begrudgingly teaching Rey or the Resistance’s plight. Fortunately, this only takes a small part of the film before quickly rejoining the Resistance’s storyline.
Much like The Force Awakens, Jedi is preoccupied with the concepts of legacy, legitimacy, and succession. The characters debate over whether one should replicate or reject the past. Driver illustrates this with his performance as Kylo Ren. The anguish of killing his father in The Force Awakens weighs heavily upon him, and his eyes reveal the tortured nature of his soul. Luke’s arc also deals with this concept of legacy, specifically in regards to the Jedi Order. Luke sees the Jedi religion as a failure, due to both his own failings and the failings of the Order during the Clone Wars. This informs Luke’s curmudgeonly, grief-ridden attitude (this is easily Hammill’s best performance as the character to date) and makes his eventual return to the fray all the more satisfying.
This is also the most beautiful Star Wars film — in terms of color and composition — since The Empire Strikes Back. Ahch-To is equal parts grey and green, a craggy island in a sapphire sea. This planet gives rise to the most eloquent and elegant description of the Force the series has offered; a montage of life, death, and the balance between the two. Snoke’s throne room is impressive as well; the walls and armor of his guards are a bright scarlet. Equally visually striking is the final battle, set on a salt planet where the stark white of the ground is ripped into shades of crimson (this makes the surface of the planet appear as if it is bleeding). The way in which the action scenes play out is something to behold. There is one self-enclosed setpiece in the opening sequence that was just as emotionally moving as the “No Man’s Land” scene in Wonder Woman.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will go down in history as the most divisive Star Wars film. It takes the greatest mysteries of The Force Awakens and trivializes them. It brings a touch of instinctual, almost self-aware humor to the series. But most importantly, it moves the franchise forward and expands the mythology in ways that I could never have predicted. The Last Jedi is not just a stellar film, but one of the best Star Wars films to date.