Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Rey, Poe, and Finn are back, picking up the story from where The Force Awakens ended and presenting an all new story that’s both action packed and emotionally riveting. Come inside to check out my (spoiler free) thoughts on The Last Jedi!
Though it’s only been a couple years since we left Rey and Luke on the island at the end of The Force Awakens, but the wait for The Last Jedi has felt like forever. Thankfully the wait is over (or nearly over depending on when you read this), and we finally get to see what happens next.
The film doesn’t answer every question you have, but it does so many things right, you won’t care. In case you’re wondering (or my initial paragraph wasn’t clear), I will be keeping this review SPOILER free. The only things I’ll mention specifically are things you’ve seen in the trailers.
As has been mentioned a few times, The Last Jedi picks up after the end of The Force Awakens. Everyone is struggling in the aftermath of the events that transpired in Episode VII. The galaxy is reeling from the destruction of the Republic by Starkiller Base, with no government in place or plan of action. As such, the First Order is moving more boldly to cement its power in the vacuum while the Resistance must scramble to escape.
As what’s left of the Resistance fleet attempt to flee their base on D’Qar, Finn embarks on a daring mission with Rose (played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) to find a code-cracker who can help them escape the First Order’s massive battle station. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, but the meeting isn’t at all what she was expecting. Her journey is a tough one to discuss without delving into spoilers. If The Force Awakens hadn’t made it clear, this is really her story now, and Kylo presents an interesting challenge. Their stories intersect in some interesting ways that I won’t get into.
On paper the story sounds way more complicated than it is. It’s fairly straightforward in terms of each characters’ goals...but how they come to them is where the story truly shines. Don’t get me wrong, there are a TON of things going on in the film. Each scene is packed with a plethora of visual information; begging for multiple viewings to pick everything apart and discover all that’s going on. Despite somewhat simplistic ideas moving the primary plot forward, it's a very dense film filled with hefty themes, humor, emotion, and lore that will keep fans talking for years to come.
The pacing this time around is significantly improved. The Last Jedi moves along at a fast pace, and oftentimes feels like a chase/race-against-the-clock movie, it doesn't feel disjointed or like it's rushing. While I enjoyed The Force Awakens, it's pacing is one of the issues I had with it. It tried to move too fast, clipping by at a breakneck pace that didn't allow expansion on certain scenes. TFA still nailed the characters, but the story suffered a bit. The Last Jedi manages to strike better balance; keeping the story moving quickly, while ensuring the plot has plenty of room to breathe.
Much has been said (in interviews and what not) about The Last Jedi being bolder and taking the franchise to unknown places. This is absolutely true, and it has some pretty ballsy story moments. It breaks the Star Wars mold in interesting ways, managing to do its own thing, while still maintaining a Star Wars 'vibe.' In short, this is still very much Star Wars...but it's Star Wars like you haven't seen before and promises something truly amazing to come.
Character Driven Action
We've seen snippets of action in the trailers for the film, but nothing prepares you for some of the insane set pieces littered throughout the movie. Without trying to be hyperbolic, The Last Jedi is easily one of the most action-packed Star Wars films in all the saga. More than simply looking impressive (seriously, it's damn impressive), each major action scene has a strong emotional connection that keeps you on the edge of your seat.
I mentioned this online in my social previews, but each individual act feels like the epic third act of any other movie. It's insane how much they managed to cram in, and keep the tension at such a high level. There are moments near the beginning of the film that would have easily worked as a conclusion, with all the awe and shock that entails.
It’s one awesome thing after another, but it still manages to make time for genuine character moments. Force Awakens laid much of groundwork for the returning characters, giving you an instant connection with them this time around. The new characters, however, manage to quickly hook you. Without going into too much detail, there's a moment within the first 5-10 minutes of the film that had me completely, emotionally absorbed despite being connected to a character we only just met.
This strong character work keeps you invested, making those big action pieces more impactful. There are a number of "holy crap" and fist-pumping moments in the film. There were several times where the whole theater was cheering and gasping. While they were impressive from a visual standpoint, it's the emotional weight behind it all that makes it special.
When I say emotional, I mean this film is a veritable roller coaster. I encountered nearly every emotion on the spectrum throughout the viewing, and walked out of the theater feeling both ecstatic and kind of drained. It has moments that will anger, frustrate, and leave you shaking your head (all in good ways) at the characters, while the next scene may has you laughing and cheerful.
It doesn't hurt that the actors all did a great job either. Carrie Fisher turns in a great final performance, while Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron feels like the fully realized character TFA teased us with. Daisy Ridley continues to impress as Rey, forging her own path, while John Boyega's Finn gives audiences a more ground point of view from which to see everything. Adam Driver once again delivers a powerful performance as Kylo Ren, infusing the new villain with so much intensity, he commands just about every scene he’s in.
Everyone was waiting to see how Luke's return would play out. His brief moment in Force Awakens wasn't enough, but The Last Jedi gives you all you can handle. Mark Hamill does an excellent job in reprising the role. While the character may not have gone where we expected/hoped, Luke's journey in the film is one I think most fans will feel pleased with.
As you may have gathered from the trailers/TV spots, one of the central ideas presented in The Last Jedi, has to do with balance and it forms one of the key themes in the movie. More than just balance in the traditional sense, it explores the notion of cause and effect. As Snoke says in one of the TV spots, "Darkness rises, and Light to meet it."
It's this concept, that one gives rise to the other to make sure, which forms the crux of the film's most pivotal moments. It's not just about maintaining a balance, however, and the film explores what it means to do nothing, or stay neutral. This part is embodied by Benicio del Toro's character, "DJ," and his interactions with Finn. I won't go into much more detail on this aspect, but I really enjoyed how these themes were presented in the film. They don't come across as preachy, rather they come across through natural progressions of the characters.
Similarly, hope remains a key theme throughout the film, carrying on one of the core ideas that's always been present in the Star Wars saga. Here, it's given a slightly different meaning and approach in a way that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The Last Jedi has oodles of action and visual flair to keep your attention, but it's these themes, and how they're explored, that will ensure it stays relevant many years down the road.
For all the gushing I've been doing, The Last Jedi isn't a perfect film. It's a really damn good movie, but there are a couple issues I had with it:
- Benicio del Toro feels mostly wasted in the movie. While I feel his character may have some more important things to do in Episode IX, he's largely unnecessary in this film.
- Phasma makes a return, but while it's satisfying in regards to Finn's character, I suspect many fans won't be happy with her role.
- While the pacing overall is much better, there's a bit of time in the second act that drags. It's important story/character building (it doesn't feel unnecessary in any way), but in terms of the racing-against-time feel to the rest of the film, it seems a little out of place.
All in all, my issues with the movie are minor. I can't expound much more on a couple of these without delving into spoilers. Regardless, there are some things that didn't work, but they're so completely outweighed by the amazing parts, it's hard to knock the film down for them.
There is SO MUCH I want to talk about in this film...but I can't. If I go much further I'll end up slipping out some unintentional spoilers. So I'll leave off with a few minor cool bits I noticed throughout the film:
- There are some neat Easter eggs in the film. Nothing nearly as overt as The Force Awakens, but there are cool call backs to ALL the films.
- Last Jedi is packed with new lore/ideas to explore.
- I have literally never cried in a Star Wars movie before, but there was a moment in this film that brought out a couple tears.
- The Porgs are amazing.
- This is easily one of the funniest films in the franchise, but none of it feels forced. The humor is natural and works within the moments. This serves as a vital contrast to the high tension throughout the rest of the film.
- The Lightsaber action is immensely satisfying.
- If you had issues with stuff in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi does a great job of ‘fixing’ those. Subtle in some ways, while calling out direct fan criticisms in others.
- Leia has one of the coolest moments in the film (for me anyway) and it dropped my jaw.
- As has been the case with the other Star Wars films in the new era, there are some cool nods to the Prequels and Legends material.
An Amazing Step Forward in the Galaxy Far, Far Away
I can't sit here and give you a definitive point on where I rank The Last Jedi with the other films. I need to see it a few more times before making such a claim. Suffice it to say, however, that the minute the credits rolled, I immediately wanted to start over and see it again. It does so many amazing things, it's hard to do little more than gush about it.
While there are some minor issues, and things that may not hold up as while on multiple viewings, they're completely overshadowed by how excellent everything else is. If you were worried about The Last Jedi, or nervous about it not holding up well...I can assure you, there's nothing to fear. Rian Johnson has crafted not just an incredible Star Wars movies, but a great movie in general, and there's no reason to skip out on it.