Movie Review: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’

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The Empire Strikes Back is widely regarded as the best sequel of all time, as well as the best of all the Star Wars films, and with the new trilogy of the saga from a galaxy far, far away reaching its all-important second act, early trailers and marketing for Star Wars: The Last Jedi suggested director Rian Johnson (Looper) took a similar and darker approach. While the film is definitely no Empire, The Last Jedi does surprisingly follow its own path in a very unique and wildly entertaining Star Wars installment. 

The Last Jedi is both in title and reality Mark Hamill’s film, reprising the legendary role of Luke Skywalker. While previous installment The Force Awakens told a very personal Han Solo story with only a tiny glimpse of Luke, this film is the aging Jedi’s time to shine, and boy does he ever.

After destroying Starkiller Base, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is sent by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) to find her brother Luke with the mission of convincing him to join and lead the Resistance against The First Order. But the young force sensitive girl finds a very different, bitter Jedi Master than she expected and begins a dangerous path to the Force and her true nature.

Everything with Rey and Luke in this story works well, and provides some of the best material in the overall film. Hamill’s Luke has become slightly mad after years of isolation and living with dark secrets of his post-Return of the Jedi life, trying to rekindle the Jedi Order while also training Han and Leia’s powerful son Ben (Adam Driver), whom eventually embraced the dark side and became Kylo Ren.

But what I really loved about Hamill’s performance is the unexpected ways in which he evokes the sweet, playful farm boy we all know and love from the original trilogy. Hamill is able to move effortlessly between his old personality and this new one with just a shift of his eyes and a slight vocal tweak – it’s quite wonderful to see and something the film’s marketing did not reveal.

But back to Adam Driver, his portrayal of Kylo Ren continues to be a fascinating wild card with his constantly shifting emotions and allegiances. The mix of quiet moments of reflection counter-balanced with scenery chewing fury make him a blast to watch as the character. Driver may go a little too far and a little too campy occasionally, but he sure is a fun villain to root against.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is also given a beefier role this time out and is by far my favorite non-Jedi character of the new trilogy. Isaac bubbles with excitement in every scene and his exuberance delivering jokes at the expense of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, more comedic this time out) or his excitement every time he interacts with BB-8 is infectious. Much of his story revolves around his relationship with Leia and her desire to teach him when the right time is for a leader to make a stand and when to cut and run. They have a lovely dynamic and it’s a shame they won’t share the screen together in Episode IX.

Not everyone fares as well as Poe and Rey from the new cast of characters. Finn (John Boyega) is given an extremely tedious B-plot with new companion Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) involving finding a hacker referred to them by Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o). The duo travels to illustrious planet Canto Bight, the opposite of the Mos Eisley Cantina, where its wretched hive of scum and villainy consists of the uppermost echelon of rich society.
The scenes on Canto Bight really drag down the middle of the film, evoking more of a prequel vibe with its goofy-looking CG plastic-like sets and silly juvenile humor. There, they meet the mysterious hacker played by Benicio del Toro, who is an interesting character in his own right, but completely unnecessary to the overall plot.
Rian Johnson’s film also has quite a few odd moments of humor and other bizarre character choices that feel out of place, creating a stranger tone than audiences have seen in any previous Star Wars film – which might turn some off. The movie is far funnier than expected, but a lot of the jokes don’t hit, are just weirdly placed in a scene or just make no sense as at all. Other elements, like Del Toro’s odd speech stammer or the story of the slave kids on Canto Bight left me scratching my head in confusion of their inclusion to the film.
Back on the positive side of things, The Last Jedi has done an impressive job of keeping its bigger plot details and a few terrific surprises under wraps. Much like Luke foreshadows in the marketing: “This isn’t going to go the way you think!” Additionally there are two or three HUGE moments for fans of the original trilogy that are sure to give audiences the chills while making fanboy and fangirl heads explode with excitement – myself included.
For audiences and fans that have bought into the new trilogy which began with The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi will be a fun ride that keeps this train moving at breakneck speeds. For anyone wanting a film that goes even deeper than The Force Awakens did into feeling more like an original trilogy film, it might be best to temper expectations a bit. But for anyone truly worried, don’t be: The Last Jedi does right by Luke Skywalker, has fantastic space battles, big drama and a couple of terrific surprises, which is really all you could ask from the galaxy far, far away.
80%
80%
LAST BUT
DEFINITELY
NOT LEAST

The second act in the new Star Wars trilogy is no Empire Strikes Back, but it successfully further explores this new cast of heroes and villains while doing right by the original trilogy characters - most notably Hamill's superb return as Luke Skywalker.

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