David’s Review: Star Wars-The Last Jedi

David Reddish
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Lightsabers ignite once again in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the ongoing saga of the dysfunctional Skywalker family. The Last Jedi kicks off just after the conclusion of The Force Awakens, finding a galaxy in chaos after the destruction of the New Republic Senate at the hands of the neo-Imperial First order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), along with General Hux (Dominhall Gleeson) follows the freedom-fighting Resistance in hot pursuit, determined to wipe out the galaxy’s best chance at a defense against fascist conquest. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) must find a new base of operations to regroup, and stall long enough for fledgling Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) to bring Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out of exile.


More than that, I’ll not reveal here, both because Star Wars fans have a notorious allergy to spoiled plots, and because The Last Jedi features so many unexpected twists that the audience won’t know what to expect, even while the movie plays. In that regard, the film is a real oddity: it’s an unpredictable Hollywood blockbuster. Skeptical moviegoers—or perhaps, those who have psychic Force visions—should delight in knowing that The Last Jedi doesn’t shy away from subverting expectations to great effect. The movie toys with popular fan theories, about the origins of the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, in a commanding performance), or potential romances, only to pull the rug out. Much like the character Rey, the audience never knows quite what to believe.


Most refreshingly, while the film does pay homage to the original and prequel trilogies, The Last Jedi finds its own footing as a fresh and intriguing expansion of the Star Wars mythos. The Force Awakens relied on nostalgia to fuel audience interest, amounting to little more than a retread of the original movie with less interesting characters. The Last Jedi tells its own story, raising new questions about the role of the Jedi, giving flat characters intriguing dimensions and following at least a basic understanding of the laws of physics (nobody sees a planet destroyed instantaneously from across the galaxy). The opening space battle ranks on par with the finale of last year’s Rogue One immediately surpassing anything in The Force Awakens. It also sets off the most relentless two and a half hours since Mad Max: Fury Road. Writer-director Rian Johnson, aided by cinematographer Steve Yedlin, has a great sense of story pacing to keep things moving, and a spectacular visual sense that recalls the images of Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg and Michelangelo Antonioni.


Johnson also knows how to direct actors, and the cast benefits accordingly. Of the returning sequel trilogy cast, Driver fares much better than in his previous outing thanks in large part to Johnson’s steady hand. Whereas his character came off inconsistent and, frankly, constipated in the last film, here, Kylo Ren becomes a man of great potential undone by his own inner conflict. Driver doesn’t have much charisma, but gives an effective performance thanks to better writing and direction. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron, likewise, gets expanded into a full role, rather than a TV-pilot placeholder, playing a pivotal function opposite Fisher’s Leia. Ridley continues to have an iconic presence as would-be Jedi Rey. John Boyega’s Finn doesn’t get fleshed out quite so well, though the actor brings enough energy and personality to the part that it doesn’t hinder the story. New characters, too, get their due, beginning with Kelly Marie Tran as the Resistance mechanic Rose. Tran has a fantastic screen presence, imbuing her role with energy, spunk, humor and sweetness. She gives one of the best performances in the movie, and her chemistry with Boyega does help add to his effectiveness. Veteran actors Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern also step into key roles, and deliver memorable, if underused, performances.


Of all the performers though, Fisher and Hamill rule the show. The Last Jedi features Fisher’s final performance, and fortunately, it’s a good one. The actress channels Queen Victoria on a cosmic scale, displaying a kind of earth mother regality and the same stubborn determination that made Leia the great sci-fi heroine (sorry, Sigourney Weaver). Johnson also affords her the chance to get back in on the action. Her scenes have an undeniable bittersweetness to them that makes her send off reverent and tender. Hamill, forever typecast as Luke Skywalker, meets his role with a warm embrace, emerging as an effective and captivating character actor. His Luke has come along way from the adventurous farm boy, becoming a middle-aged hermit full of guilt and regret. Luke always represented the heart of Star Wars, and Hamill and director Johnson know that. Here, Luke has a lot to answer for, and Hamill dives into the part and gives a performance destined to mark a high point in his career.


Star Wars has always played with philosophical underpinnings and dilemmas, something almost totally ignored in The Force Awakens and barely touched on in Rogue One. The Last Jedi, however, uses the dire state of the galaxy to introduce new insight, resulting in two of the absolute best scenes in the whole of the canon. Johnson, along with uncredited input from Fisher, has crafted dialogue destined for quotation along with the best dialogue in the series. Besides themes of guilt and loss, The Last Jedi touches on ideals of empathy, seduction and temptation, some in familiar ways, others, with subversion. No doubt fans will have much to discuss in the ensuring years until Episode IX.


If anything, The Last Jedi feels a hair too short. Several characters like Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma or beloved wookie Chewbacca don’t have much to do, and a number of the plot holes from the previous film carry over here. For example: how, in a Galactic Republic of hundreds of star systems, does the loss of one planet somehow destroy the entire government and military? Maybe that was unavoidable given the set-up, but eyebrows still raise. The movie integrates some flashbacks—a first for Star Wars—though that may have something to do with a truncated runtime (Johnson’s original cut was said to exceed three hours). The film opens with some goofy humor, and it may take a moment for the audience to acclimate. The Last Jedi does not shy away from Star Wars’ latent silliness which Johnson uses to counterbalance some very bleak plot elements. Other plot holes and lingering questions about Rey’s parentage or the nature of the Knights of Ren seem to get answers…though somehow, I didn’t quite trust them as fully resolved.


At times The Last Jedi feels like The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi coupled into a single film. I mean that as a compliment: though stuffed to capacity, Rain Johnson finds balance in the Force enough to keep the story and characters clear, leaving a refreshing world of possibilities for future stories. In sum, The Last Jedi takes risks with fantastic results. In an era of endless rehashes, films by committee, formula plots and hack directors, hiring a genuine auteur with a bold creative vision reminds us just how satisfying Hollywood blockbuster adventures can be. The Last Jedi has everything that made Star Wars so popular to begin with, and everything that makes us want to go to the movies in the first place.