“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” Movie Review


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WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS

     After endless speculation since the release of " Star Wars: The Force Awakens” two years ago, the YouTube and social media driven society we live in finally has the chance to test their endless theories on potential plot twists and character lineage as writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” invades theaters with the latest episode in the Skywalker saga.  Save to say, no one likely predicted the direction, Johnson, along with producers J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and Ram Bergman chose to go, and that’s a good thing.  What Johnson has done so successfully, is create an atmosphere of unpredictability that still manages to serve both the arc of the overall story, as well as the newly introduced characters from the last chapter.  Will everyone be happy with the result? Of course not.  Find me a single film that can say that, but the accomplishment by Johnson and his team here can not be understated.  “The Last Jedi” is full of well earned emotional moments, bombastic and thrilling action sequences, plenty of light hearted humor, and enough sharp turns in its plotting to keep those aforementioned theorists busy for another two years until the ninth and final installment is released.

     Picking up where “The Force Awakens” left off, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in the process of introducing herself to Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who was largely absent from the previous film though he remained the driving force of the story.  Johnson hints at the impossible to predict nature of things to come right away when we see Luke’s initial reaction to being handed the lightsaber he once fought against Darth Vader with, discarding it like an unwanted paper weight.  The sequence is intercut with an ongoing space battle between the First Order and the Resistance that has our heroes on the defensive as General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and his powerful fleet close in on what was a secret base.  It is during these scenes, Johnson begins to inject the kind of humor that has become a hallmark of the films comprising the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but was largely absent in George Lucas’ Prequel Trilogy.  At no time in the opening space battle, nor the training sequences with Luke and Rey, does the proceedings feel overly serious, even though the stakes could not be higher.  Something that gives each character relatable personalities even when their situation is grave.

    With a bit of ingenuity and daring from Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the rest of the Resistance successfully get away, but the grim reality of their situation quickly becomes apparent when it is found the New Order is able to now track ships traveling at light speed.  It’s also apparent the Resistance isn’t in the great spot we might’ve thought they were after the events of “The Force Awakens” and the destruction of the Starkiller Base.  In much the same fashion as the Empire did after the destruction of the Death Star, the First Order has an entire fleet of massive warships at their disposal, with the central storyline having their fleet in pursuit of the Resistance fleet who can only outrun them for as long as their fuel supply lasts.  And after the initial melee that includes a heart felt sacrifice by a character we had just met for the first time, Snoke (Andy Serkis), the presumed leader of the First Order, arrives with his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), still healing from the wounds inflicted by his lightsaber battle with Rey on Starkiller, bringing with them a grand plan to wipe out what remains of the Resistance. 

     With all of the main players now in place, things begin to get really interesting.  What you think will occur on Ahch-To, the secret island hiding place of which Luke is found, tends to be exactly the opposite, mostly because Luke went into hiding for good reason and never anticipated someone like Rey being sent by Leia to seek help against the First Order.  Shackled by the immense guilt of having lost Ben Solo to the dark side and thereby creating Kylo Ren, Luke secluded himself so as to not recreate the same circumstances with another, which is how he begins to see Rey, almost immediately quipping “This is not going to end the way that you think.”  That should’ve been a hint to the audience as well, since “The Last Jedi” works best when it is dictating the storyline and not giving in to what the fanboys think they want. 

     At 152 minutes, “The Last Jedi” is the longest film in the “Star Wars” saga and it certainly wastes no time making the most of it.  Johnson and his collaborators transport us to several newly realized worlds, including the Vegas like casino city Canto Bight where Finn (John Boyega) and a new character named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) take a detour in order to find a codebreaker capable of getting them past First Order security and ultimately to disarm the tracker that continues to thwart their escape.  There is also the mineral planet Crait, which was previously a hidden Rebel base and is now seen as a lifeline for the Resistance who have the First Order hot on their tails.  But the inner workings of Ahch-To may be the most fascinating of locales in the film, with it’s green and mountainous island geography serving as the would be training ground for Luke to pass on his vast Jedi knowledge to Rey who struggles to understand where she plays into this entire scenario in the first place.

     “The Last Jedi” features a number of standout performances by newly introduced characters who make a tremendous impact in the story.  The aforementioned Rose plays well alongside Finn, as she seems to practically idolize his noble actions from the first film, but soon learns she is more than capable of being a hero herself.  Laura Dern appears as Vice Admiral Holdo, who is put in charge of the Resistance fleet, but is seen by Poe as someone incapable of having the entire fleet’s lives in her hands.  There is also DJ, played by Benicio Del Toro, who is discovered on Canto Bight as being the possible codebreaker that is needed, but who also is a man without cause, available to the highest bidder for deeds both good and bad.  All three of these characters play plot twisting roles and are given plenty of great moments to shine, a feat indeed given the amount of characters already competing for that time.

     And I don't think there was a dry eye in the theater during any scene featuring Carrie Fisher in what is her last screen performance.  As Leia Organa, she commands the attention of every character she interacts with and functions as the emotional glue that holds the entire story together.  She was amazing and will be missed.  Because of Leia, there is no mistaking that this incarnation of the Star Wars universe is intent on ensuring the women are in charge and occupying the strongest and most pivotal roles, and it’s wonderful.  Even with the legendary Luke Skywalker functioning as the center of the audience’s attention, when Rey determines she isn’t getting what she came for, she simply leaves and inserts herself directly into harms way, confronting both Snoke and Kylo Ren on her own.  For all the scenery chewing Hamill does in his return (he’s outstanding), the thrust of the story remains with Rey and her journey, not in becoming a Jedi, but in helping the Resistance end the First Order for good.  Put simply, she gets things done.

     “The Last Jedi”, particularly if you are one who is well versed in “Star Wars” lore, will leave you with plenty to contemplate over the next two years.  Some questions are answered, while new ones are asked.  We know back in 2014, when this new trilogy of films was announced, Abrams and Kennedy mapped out the story, knowing exactly how each character’s arc would begin and where it would end up.  At this point, we have been given two thirds of the story with so much more to come.  If there are questions after viewing the film, remember, that’s the idea.  The best stories aren't the ones that are spoon fed, but rather are the ones which make you think, ponder, and wonder where exactly these characters might end up next.  A lot of ground is covered in “The Last Jedi” and the story has moved forward substantially in a way that is wholly original and satisfying, but I also believe not all is as it seems.

     One compelling bit I thought was interesting was Johnson’s choice of the final scene, which features a young boy from Canto Bight using the Force to summon a broom he will use to sweep the stable he is working in.  It’s a message that not all potential Jedi must possess Skywalker blood in order to make a difference in the world.  There’s likely another Rey, Finn, or Poe out there, who is supremely talented and just waiting for their opportunity to shine.  Kind of like Johnson himself, who started as an indie filmmaker not long ago and now finds himself holding the reigns of the biggest franchise in film history.  GRADE: A