“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” dir. Rian Johnson
(Note: This review is contains absolutely NO SPOILERS for “The Last Jedi.”)
Picking up immediately following the events of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.
This has easily been the most anticipated film since the release of “The Force Awakens.” While there are a fair share of fans who weren’t thrilled with that film, it still delivered an incredible movie-going experience that brought back the magic of “Star Wars” for so many people, myself included. J.J. Abrams introduced a fantastic set of new characters, paving the way for infinite possibilities for where they can go next. Stepping in this time around to further the saga is Rian Johnson, who’s ambitious storytelling ability with such thought-provoking films as “Brick” and “Looper” is in full force in this galaxy far, far away.
It took me two viewings to fully process “The Last Jedi.” There is an overwhelming abundance of risks that Johnson took with this story that are totally unexpected, a stark contrast to the common criticism some had with the previous episode feeling too familiar with what’s come before. It’s refreshing to see a blockbuster, especially one on an incredibly massive scale as this, be so fresh and go in a different direction.
The characters in this trilogy have great personalities that beautifully fit within the universe of “Star Wars.” Rey in particular is was a huge standout in Episode VII thanks to the terrific performance from Daisy Ridley and outstanding visual storytelling from J.J. Abrams. In “The Last Jedi,” Johnson deepens her arc, having her face both emotional and physically demanding challenges with immensely satisfying results.
Fans have been eager for two years to see what follows after the conclusion of “The Force Awakens” between Rey and Luke Skywalker. Without going in depth as to what happens, every aspect that involves Luke Skywalker surprises and excites. Mark Hamill gives the best performance he’s ever given as the character, bringing a version of Luke that has had a natural evolution since “Return of the Jedi” while still maintaining his core persona. The chemistry between Hamill and Ridley is absolutely wonderful, making for some of the best character interactions in the film.
Kylo Ren dealt with a lot of conflicted emotions in the last film. Here, he’s grown even more complex since dealing with the consequences of killing Han Solo. Adam Driver continues to deliver an emotionally rich performance filled with rage and uncertainty of what’s to come for him. The most compelling villains are the ones that have clear motivations and reasonable intent. On that note, both of these films have developed what is shaping up to be the best antagonist in a blockbuster film since Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight.”
The release of “The Last Jedi” comes with a bit of sadness as this marks the final time audiences get to see the late Carrie Fisher on screen. The first time General Leia appears on screen, the energy in the theater grows powerful. Fisher is wonderful in the movie, providing not just a great progression of her character as well as one last reminder of her humorous spirit. Even had she been alive today, her contribution to the film would still be emotionally fullfilling.
Johnson’s frequent cinematographer Steve Yedlin shot a gorgeous film. There’s an abundance of smooth, wide angles that ensure that every inch of the meticulously crafted production design, costumes, and visual effects are on display. Not to mention this is all accompanied by another winning “Star Wars” score from legendary composer John Williams, who masterfully blends the iconic themes from the original trilogy, the outstanding themes from “The Force Awakens,” and instantly memorable pieces specifically created for this episode. From the lush greens of the secluded island to the exhilarating space battles to the awe-inspiring planet Crait that’s been highlighted in the marketing, “The Last Jedi” is filled with stunning set pieces and thrilling action sequences . . . for the most part.
The structure of the film jumps back and forth between a few storylines involving different characters. One of those storylines involves John Boyega’s Finn and a new character Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, on a planet featuring a casino. While it cannot be emphasized enough that the ideas in this portion of the film serve a great purpose to the overall plot and the performances from Boyega and Marie Tran are terrific, the execution is sometimes murky. At times, there is an overreliance of CGI which distracts heavily from the detail in the sets and props that were constructed.
There’s always been a great balance of humor within the “Star Wars” universe. “The Empire Strikes Back,” often seen as the darkest film in the saga, is actually the funniest film in the series while never sacrificing the high stakes that are set up. There are moments here where the humor can go a bit overboard, particularly a couple of moments with BB-8 which is surprising considering how perfectly he was used in “The Force Awakens,” but thankfully they are few and far between. The rest of the film is able to strike that balance that has worked so well before. And yes, the Porgs are delightful.
A key line from the final trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” comes from Luke when he says, “This is not going to go the way you think.” That brilliantly sums up the experience that will be had watching this installment. Fans going in with a hundred different theories as to where this saga will go are in for plenty of surprises that Rian Johnson has in store. If “The Force Awakens” was about recapturing nostalgia, “The Last Jedi” is about paving a new path. There are ambitious and unique decisions made here that might be hard to process at first, but only if you are stuck holding onto the past. Johnson’s mission was to boldy go where no “Star Wars” film has gone before and he succeeded with flying colors.
I’ll have a spoiler-filled review sometime next week after more people have had a chance to see the film where I’ll go more in depth on the aspects of the film that I loved as well as some of the ones I was more mixed on.
Have you seen “Star Wars: The Last Jedi?” Did it meet your expectations? Which did you prefer between this and “The Force Awakens?” Let me know what you think down below in the comments section. Just make sure that your comments are spoiler-free. Any comments containing spoilers won’t be accepted.
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