There are mild spoilers Star Wars: The Last Jedi in this review. If you’re one of the five people who haven’t seen it yet, proceed with caution.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a pretty bold sequel. That’s pretty unexpected, considering Star Wars is made by a multi-billion dollar corporation like Disney and the previous two Star Wars films. One would expect The Last Jedi to be a far more traditional mega blockbuster that pulled punches and relied heavily on the type of fan service that made The Force Awakens one of the most successful films of all time. Admittedly, there are a fair amount of callbacks and allusions to the previous films in the canon. Only makes sense, especially as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) takes a far larger role than his cameo at the finale of The Force Awakens as he’s confronted by young Rey (Daisy Ridley) about the concept of the Jedi. There’s allusions to Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi ladened throughout, but The Last Jedi separates itself from The Force Awakens by setting those familiar tropes up and subverting their original context.
Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) at one point states “Let the past die” in reference to those who stand to hold him back. Yet, what The Last Jedi aims for is to say that dwelling on the past can hurt you, but forgetting about the past leads to repetition of their mistakes rather than learning from them. These mistakes are central to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Constantly, characters are getting themselves into situations that lead to catastrophic consequences. Rey assumes things about Kylo Ren that lead her into brutal binds she needs to get out of. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) makes cocksure sudden decisions about destroying ships that lead to The Resistance being hunted down by The First Order. Finn (John Boyega) gives into his most base impulses in ways that lead him and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) into trouble. Learning from failure in The Last Jedi isn’t as concrete as “Don’t do A and get B result.” It’s a long game of finessing situations and finding where balance truly lies. Much in the same way director/writer Rian Johnson treats The Force of this universe. There’s lightness and darkness, but there’s a murky middle ground within there to both guide and confuse our people along the way.
The Last Jedi is perhaps the most morally ambiguous leap forward in the franchise, addressing the wage gap of this galaxy far far away head on during the Canto Bight subplot. We see the frivolous excess of arms dealers who sell weapons literally throw money everywhere, all while the smugglers and thieves like Han Solo or DJ (Benicio Del Toro) just try to make a quick buck. Still, DJ is an engaging character to watch thanks to Del Toro’s usual spark for quirky performances and his skills around tech that make him a surprise at every turn. Admittedly, these sequences on this casino style planet are the weaker moments of The Last Jedi overall, showcasing the tonal whiplash that makes the experience awkward. Yet, these thematic drives and the lovable chemistry between Boyega & Tran is incredibly endearing. Finn continues to try and protect his friends while Tran comes into her own from a meager maintenance worker to a larger part of The Resistance. I’d just hope both of them are involved in a storyline with more direct connections to the overall plot next time.
This is especially the case when their goal centers around a major ticking clock as Poe, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) try to escape the grasp of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and The First Order in space. This entire subplot has some of the most inventive visual elements that showcase Rian Johnson’s capabilities with both action and character interaction. The space sequence that opens Star Wars: The Last Jedi is honestly the most visually inventive the series has had. X-Wings and TIE Fighters do things here no one has done before, creating visually stimulating space battles that are perfectly edited alongside our folks in the ships. Of course, Star Wars has made plenty of sequences like this, something The Last Jedi is clearly aware of. Humorous jabs at these confrontations and subversive moments during moments of massive damage give these space battles so much more emotional investment and surprise at every turn. All with spectacular digital & practical effects, elegant production design and shining cinematography from Johnson’s crew. Hux and Poe are also allowed to have far more character than they were in The Force Awakens, particularly as one is the butt of the joke for another. Even Holdo and Leia build a believable chemistry that makes one truly believe they’ve known each other for years. Right down to their mutual conflicts with Poe’s recklessness. Of course, this being Carrie Fisher’s final film makes many moments with Leia hit home in ways not totally intended, but that meta layer doesn’t distract from Leia’s own struggles and comedic moments that make her an integral supporting character for this story.
Rian Johnson is clearly a fan of the series, but really wants to take the themes introduced and makes them murky in fascinating ways. After all, Luke tells Rey at one point that “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” Which it honestly describes The Last Jedi to a tee. Particularly in the trifecta of Luke, Rey and Kylo, where The Force is explored in ways the franchise has never gone to. The connection and lines of dark & light sides blur far more here, allowing more mysterious connections to take hold between Rey and Kylo. Something that Luke finds intimidating given his own past with Kylo. These unconventional connections between these three is leads to certain revelations that people are already incredibly divided on.
Without saying too much, these revelations are refreshing. Giving larger nets from which the pool of The Force can come from and Luke a continuation that feels natural. His more bitter tone fits a young farm boy who had his only legal guardians burned alive, finally found his father in the form of the galaxy’s greatest villain who chops his hand off and losing his own nephew to The Dark Side while trying to train him. Thus, the optimism of Rey clashes with Luke’s cynicism in ways that are bold, human and chilling all at once. This fight over The Force clearly mirrors our own modern divisive world, fighting the desire to be cynically passive and righteously angry. All done with a not-so-subtle yet powerful brush by Johnson to fit this franchise and not distract.
There’s plenty of narrative and tonal issues to be found in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is the longest Star Wars entry and one can feel that dragging moments. The Force Awakens is an inarguably better paced and streamlined film that captivated audiences with good reason. Yet, the dragging bits in The Last Jedi don’t come from overly convoluted plots as much as it does the sheer amount of ideas being shoved in by Johnson. This really is the most ambitious entry in this franchise in quite some time. And while not as consistent as the Original Trilogy could often be, the ambition and unbridled gall of The Last Jedi truly makes it a bolder film that The Force Awakens is. Which in my book can go a long way. The risks on display in The Last Jedi are already dividing many fans, with revelations and consequences that could easily disappoint so many. That being said, none of the hindrances really hurt the characters or drive of this saga as much as slightly hurt The Last Jedi as an individual film. What’s important and makes this one of the better films in the Star Wars franchise really is what it does for this galaxy far far away overall. Keeping the past in mind, but not letting it lead the course for the future. That’s up to the newbies to do. Luckily, they’ve got better non-robotic hands to steer us in the right direction. Then again, JJ Abrams will probably bring back Jabba the Hutt and Ewoks for Episode IX and render all this null and void. But for now, the spark of hope continues to set this saga aflame as a guiding light.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Roasted Porg Carcassases
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