“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is written and directed by Rian Johnson. It is the second in the sequel trilogy and the eighth main installment in the Star Wars franchise. After treading through familiar territory in “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” stands as an original and thought-provoking entry that takes the franchise in a new, exciting direction. Many questions are answered, and new ones are raised. There are a surprising amount of twists and turns, as well as expansions to the mythology that likely raised eyebrows among diehards, while aweing most children and adults alike. Most significantly, like any good Star Wars film, its characters are at its heart.
While “The Last Jedi” does have its sentimental moments, it feels quite new and maneuvers in unexpected ways. Its focus is on character arcs, at which it excels. Johnson devotes enough screen time to each character in order to flesh out their traits, exploring their strengths and what could be their downfalls. The acting is on another level from “The Force Awakens.” While I did not particularly enjoy Adam Driver’s performance in the first installment, he absolutely blew me away in this one. Both he and Daisy Ridley give fantastic performances, and the best scenes in the movie come from their evolving chemistry. Oscar Isaac’s performance is also one to hail, as his character of Poe Dameron is fleshed out and changed by the end of the film. John Boyega again brings great charm to his character of Finn, though his character along with his side story with Rose are perhaps the weakest link, and Mark Hamill introduces a very different side of Luke that split fans, and even himself, over the direction that Johnson chose to take with the character. And may Carrie Fisher forever rest in peace, as she provides a wonderfully heart-felt performance in the final film of her career. How they will utilize her character in the final installment, I have no idea.
“Last Jedi” is the longest of all the Star Wars films, sitting at 152 minutes. Though I am a proponent of long runtimes if need-be, there are certain subplots, namely the one involving Finn and Rose, that could have been cut or revised in order to help the overall structure flow much better. The film feels long as a result, due to that and an incident-driven plot that cuts between locations so much at times that it almost becomes incoherent. In fact, I would have to partake in a second viewing in order to legitimize a first, second, and third act. There’s also the issue with Disney’s perceived direction that they want to take the franchise in. There are points in the film that feel so poignant and fresh, that at times I wish they had gone farther with those developments, but instead the film ultimately ends up in the same formula of light vs. dark that we’re used to seeing in a Star Wars film. It’s done especially well, but it is frustrating that Disney can’t seem to decide whether they’re brave enough to experiment with the meat of the story, or if they’re too worried about losing money along with fanbase and fall into form for profit sake. Announcing J. J. Abram’s return for the final installment in the trilogy leans me towards believing the latter.
Rey’s and Ren’s arcs provide the backbone of the story, while Luke’s, Poe’s, and Leia’s provide other dimensions. Newcomer Laura Dern’s character seems like the typical boss that would receive some loathing about around the water cooler, but plays a pivotal part in transitioning Poe from trigger-happy flyboy to thoughtful leader. Perhaps the biggest difference between this episode and the fifth one is that the Rebels aren’t trying to win here, but rather just to survive. They are the “spark that will light the fire” that is yet to come. We see a fuse at the very end of the film.
Luke’s begrudging attitude towards Rey and the Jedi is the most surprising aspect at the start of the film. When Rey first hands Luke his old lightsaber, he chucks it behind him over a cliff. How Luke went from the most optimistic person in the galaxy to a reclusive hermit seems parallel in ways to Yoda’s story in “Empire.” Yoda may have been the most wise and skilled Jedi in the prequels, but in “Empire” he is much more scraggly-looking (aside from being a puppet at the time) and carefree. The Jedi Master makes a return in this one, with some enjoyable wry humor. Luke himself learns another lesson from Yoda, one more valuable than anything Luke taught Rey (a terrible teacher, he was), which leads Luke to rediscover his old fortitude and aid the Resistance in their escape. His means of arrival provides one of the film’s biggest twists, and his departure is welcomed and peaceful. The twin suns add a special significance.
There are several holes that still bother me in the story. For instance, who is Snoke and what is his backstory? Was he a Sith, or just a Force-sensitive being that took advantage of the power gap after the fall of the Empire? Now he is merely a red herring for Kylo, and it somewhat detracts from the fear we are meant to feel at the mention of his name. There is also the matter of Rey’s parents. Kylo says that they were mere nobodies, but I’m not so sure I believe it. He likely said that as he knew it would be the hardest answer for her to hear at the time. In “Force Awakens”, the dialog that Han and others have over Rey seems to suggest some amount of familiarity. I hope that in changing directors they didn’t simply disregard those more subtle aspects. There are other things from “Force Awakens” that are not answered, such as how Maz Kanata came in possession of Luke’s lightsaber, who the Knights of Ren are, and how Ren had Vader’s mask. There are also certain continuity issues within the individual film, such as how Rey escapes from Snoke’s ship.
What impressed me most though, along with its character focus, is the art and production direction. Not since “Empire” has such focus been given to color and ingenuity in set design. The throne room and the mineral planet were my favorite to look at. The sequences in both settings are especially impressive, as the choreography was also very well done. The lightsaber battles (I include the confrontation between Luke and Ren) harken back towards those of the original trilogy rather than those of the prequels, as they feel much more personal and are in fewer frequency. There is no proper lightsaber duel in this one, which I found quite suiting. The battles will evolve with our characters. The creativity in regards to the alien lifeforms is also much more present in this one than any other since “Return of the Jedi.”
While “The Last Jedi” has similar story beats to “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi,” I could always be relieved that it ended up taking a different direction. While certain sub-plots add a bit of slowness and hold no relevant value to the overall story, they are necessary in the overall outcome and character arcs that I did enjoy. I just wish they had come up with something else at times to make two ends meet. An unbecoming and muddy romance may loom on the horizon. Finally, a Star Wars film would not be Star Wars without John Williams, who provides a more impressive and brooding score than he did in “Force Awakens.” He conducts both new and familiar cues that give insight into each character’s thoughts. He has never failed to impress me, and neither has Rian Johnson, who has given us a beautifully directed and shot film that will impress audiences now and years into the future. I am sad that he will not be returning to shoot the last entry.