Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) elevates the sequel to 2015’s The Force Awakens to an installment worthy of The Empire Strikes Back.

When you talk to die-hard Star Wars fans, the consensus among the majority is that 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest film in the Skywalker saga. Empire adds much needed gravitas to 1977’s Star Wars, with real stakes; oue heroes are left in a precarious position, major revelations shape the characters into the form we know now. It is only through strong installments that define characters that we as audience members come to identify with their struggles and personalities.

In this way, The Last Jedi is the strongest installment in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. While The Force Awakens introduced a new cast and generation of characters following the lineage of Luke, Han, and Leia, J.J. Abrams also introduced a lot of “mystery box” elements to make these characters’ backstory seem more compelling by making it somewhat intangible. With this film, director Rian Johnson opens up the mythos of this new universe wide-open, answering many of the mysteries and backstory J.J. Abrams left dangling in The Force Awakens, and in doing so, crafts a very strong film that stands on its own as one of the best of the Star Wars franchise.

The Last Jedi follows on the cliffhanger that The Force Awakens left us on with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally meeting long lost Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Hamill is one of the shining stars of The Last Jedi, channelling Alec Guinness’ take on Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars with a touch of Toshiro Mifune’s take on the ronin in Seven Samurai. Ridley and Hamill have good chemistry and their scenes are some of the best in the film, opening up our understanding of the Force and showcasing Rey’s conflicting feelings toward Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). This subplot echoes the scenes with Luke and Yoda on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke and Rey both struggle over the understanding of The Force and what duty they may have because of it.

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren struggles with living in the shadow of Vader after his defeat at the hands of Rey. In many ways, The Last Jedi is about coming of age; characters realizing that the institutions and legends they held up are in some cases not what they believed, but also about the power that the belief in a legend can imbue in themselves and others. This is seen in the introduction of characters like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who hold up the heroes of the Resistance like John Boyega’s Finn on a pedestal, or Benicio Del Toro’s DJ, a mysterious codebreaker who tries to instill those around him with a healthy distrust of those in power. Meanwhile, Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa is locked in a dangerous stalemate with Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, which challenges Poe Dameron’s beliefs in the Resistance leadership, especially with Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo, a former Resistance hero whose motivations Poe doesn’t trust.

But really, the reason that The Last Jedi works is that we see the human motivations for these characters and their actions. Johnson crafts a human story set in a time of war, much like Looper was a science fiction story set in a recession with desperate people. Because of this, when we see the internal conflict that Leia, Luke, Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron feel in different scenes throughout the film it rings true. It turns Captain Phasma into the character we imagined based on the first images we saw of her. It makes BB-8 even cooler than it was in The Force Awakens and this generation’s R2-D2. It also reminds us why we loved Chewbacca and R2-D2, while introducing interesting new characters like the pigeon/penguin/mogwai hybrid Porgs. There are heartwarming moments and moments that make you want to scream “yeah!” at the top of your lungs. In many ways, The Last Jedi is almost two movies in one with all the big moments and setpieces throughout. I can imagine there will be some distaste in the fanbase for the comedic moments in the film, of which there are many. But for any comedic bits, there are moments of exultation and tragedy that really make The Last Jedi the best iteration of Star Wars since 1980.

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