By Jack Dignan
Star Wars means a lot to me. If you’ve ever met me, or even if you’ve merely been reading my reviews for a little while now, you know that to be true. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for anything in my entire life as I was for The Force Awakens, back in 2015, and that film (mostly) did not disappoint. While I was anxious walking into that, I had confidence walking into The Last Jedi. Writer-director Rian Johnson is a tremendous filmmaker. Seeing him set loose in the Star Wars playground is a dream come true, and one I was positive would result in a groundbreaking addition to this Saga.
His work on Looper is all the proof you need. It’s a highly original, emotionally investing and delightfully twisted sci-fi with a whole lot of great ideas and an even better execution. It should surprise nobody that Johnson brings his unmatched sci-fi vision to The Last Jedi, where he’s given full creative control and makes the exact movie he wanted to make, taking audiences on a sweeping adventure that will challenge, delight and shock them through and through. This is a Star Wars movie unlike any other. Nothing can prepare you for what’s about to come.
When we last saw our beloved heroes, the world wasn’t exactly as peace. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has discovered missing war hero and famed Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) standing dramatically atop a cliff, while Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his counterpart General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) are left dealing with the aftermath of a now-destroyed Starkiller Base. The villainous First Order is winning. The Resistance is on the run. General Leia (Carrie Fisher) leads Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) on a new venture that sees them finding a way to stall enough time for Rey to convince Luke to return to the world he once left behind, saving a galaxy that so desperately needs a hero again.
It’s a journey of discovery for our heroes, where character is put in the forefront and our heroes are tested in the most unexpected and shattering of ways. Rey is forced to prove her might, seeking aid from a worn down retiree who wants nothing to do with her. The Force Awakens saw her taking her first steps into a larger world. The Last Jedi sees her finding her place, and it’s a place audiences aren’t going to expect. Her personal narrative is fresh and unexpected. At times it feels as though her expectations parallel that of the audience, but expectations can’t be met, and what we get is far from what we expect, yet everything about it just feels right.
Those who criticize The Force Awakens for its narrative similarities to A New Hope are going to be delighted to find The Last Jedi subverts every single expectation you could possibly have going in. Certain plot elements are inevitably going to reflect Empire Strikes Back, given the way The Force Awakens leaves things off, but they’re executed in the most shocking and surprising of ways, where the sheer audacity and riskiness of the film is hard to not fall in love with. However, its risks may prove too big for a single viewing. It certainly did for me. My review is late because I couldn’t put my thoughts into words after my initial viewing. I had to wait it out, see it again, and then get back to you. And I’m glad I did.
There’s so much happening in The Last Jedi, and consequently so much to spoil. It’s all about character. They’re each confronted with the one thing they so desperately don’t want to confront, and it leads to a number of shocking reveals and unexpected twists, yet at the end of the day, the ones that surprise the most are the ones that don’t always matter. We don’t have a massive reveal with the same gravitas as ‘I am your father,’ but instead the ones that are there are executed in smaller, shocking deliveries that aren’t what audiences are going to expect. A lot happens here that we’ve never seen before, and it’s bloody brilliant. It’s a payoff in the unusual sense.
Rey still manages to be a wonderful protagonist, and her journey is emotional and satisfying, but her counterpart Kylo Ren gets the most strengthening as a character. The Last Jedi sees him move beyond his Darth Vader-esque facade and evolve into a deepened character that’s respectable and frightening in his own right, yet just as sympathetic and human. You feel bad for the guy. He’s been through some shit, and his past relationship with Luke leads to a number of empathetic sequences that almost don’t make him seem like the villain. He’s just a dude making his way in the galaxy.
And that’s one of the things I love most about The Last Jedi. It delves into the force in new and brilliant ways, uncovering what it is and what it’s all about. The line between good and evil becomes blurred and bigger questions are asked. This is a story of failure, the bigger picture, leadership and who really wins when it comes to war. It’s nice to see 2017 going to extra mile to make thematically resonate and emotionally fulfilling blockbusters, with the likes of Logan, Blade Runner 2049 and now this, amongst others. Star Wars is an iconic franchise. It’s about time it started taking as big of a risk as this film does.
Even on a technical level, this film is astonishing. One sequence during the finale is heavy on green screen, and the suddenness of the green screen looks odd in comparison to the real-world sets and locations we’ve seen prior, but everything besides that is impeccable. The set design, costuming and make up work are next level good, aided by gorgeous cinematography and an always-wonderful score by John Williams. His work here does feel a little familiar, with most of the standout scores re-hashes of ones we’ve already heard, but there’s plenty of new material to work with. Even if some of it sounds oddly like Jurassic Park…
The Last Jedi requires these actors to take their performances up a notch and delve into the bigger picture at hand. We’re not just trying to take down a space station here. It’s so much bigger than that. Mark Hamill has never been better as Luke, whose motives and mindset are a far but justifiable evolution from what we’ve already seen from his character. This is a very different Luke, but he fits right in, excluding an initial out of place moment of humour. Carrie Fisher is also tremendous in her final role, and it’s a shame to see this be her final performance, for the way things are set up, Episode IX was looking to give her a much juicer role than we’ve previously seen in this new trilogy.
Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac all give brilliant performances, even better than that of The Force Awakens, and yet the newcomers fit right in. Kelly Marie Tran gets her breakout role as Rose, a kind hearted maintenance worker swept into this thrilling adventure, while Benicio Del Toro is fantastic as the mysteriously sided DJ, who matches humour with charm and vulgarity. Andy Serkis returns as Supreme Leader Snoke, head of the First Order, and he gets a lot more to do this time around, but his character left me feeling unfulfilled. What’s there is fantastic, one scene in the third act particularly, but you don’t get to know an awful lot about him. He’s underdeveloped.
Also returning in the baddie department is Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma, who was falsely advertised into having a much more prominent role this time around, when in reality her appearance is more of an extended cameo that’s fun, but just as worthless as her role in The Force Awakens. There’s subtle hints towards a much more fleshed out character, but she doesn’t end up doing much, and her role feels like a waste of time. Then again, this might just be a case of expectation vs. reality, for her minimal role in The Force Awakens no longer irritates me. Given time, I can see her minimal role here no longer irritating me either.
Being the Star Wars fan that I am, The Last Jedi is beyond satisfying. There’s so many fantastic crowd-pleasing moments throughout, mixed in with solid character development, making this one hell of a ride. Also, it does help when the film is jam-packed with Porgs. We need more Porgs, please. I do have some further thoughts on the film, but they can’t be discussed here. I wouldn’t dare ruin the movie. But, rest assured, you’re in for an absolutely fantastic adventure that opens up the galaxy in ways unlike any other.
4 1/2 Stars
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