It’s hard to believe it’s already been two years since the “Star Wars” series made its triumphant return to the big screen with “The Force Awakens.” It feels like it was only yesterday we were lining up to see it, but also somewhat like it happened a long time ago…
When “Force Awakens” ended, audiences were divided. Half of them praised the film and said it was a return to form for the series since the original trilogy ended. For others, it was too much of a remake from the the film that started it all and many felt the filmmakers played it too safe.
For those who found themselves in the latter category, they should find it comforting to know that “The Last Jedi” dares to do what the series itself hasn’t allowed itself to do since the release of “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s not afraid to take chances or risks and for the most part, it pays off and is easily the strongest entry in the entire franchise since “Empire.”
Starting off immediately where the last film ended, “Jedi” begins with the resistance still in battle against the First Order. As they wage war in the skies above, Rey (Daisey Ridley) finds herself on the same island where we last left her, begging Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil, who gives the best performance of his career) to train her.
I feel like I should just come out and say it: this film is awesome and outshines its predecessor in every way possible. It’s fun, thrilling and full of breath-taking visuals that are perhaps some of the greatest we’ve ever seen in a “Star Wars” film. To be honest, it’s a damn near perfect film and only a (very small) number of flaws hold it back from being the perfect “Star Wars” movie.
Let’s start off by saying the movie is a little too long. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I love long movies. In my opinion, the longer the better, so long as everything we’re watching feels necessary and important to the movie. Sadly for “Jedi,” that isn’t quite the case with everything we’re seeing.
After an electrifying opening act, the second half starts to feel like a drag and is crammed with one too many many subplots that didn’t feel like they really belonged in the movie. Essentially, we’re watching three different story lines at once: Rey on the island, the remaining resistance members fighting off the Order, and Finn (John Boyega) and a cockpit worker (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) flying off to hack into the First Order’s main ship, which is where the film suffers the most.
Watching Finn’s story line, you can’t help but feel like it’s kind of pointless. It sounds important, but in the end, it really isn’t and removing it would have had no effect on the film whatsoever. Rather than feel like an important matter, it more or less comes off as writer/director Rian Johnson unsure of what he wanted to do with Finn and decided to give him his own story line to make him relevant to the story. It’s a shame because the other two stories we’re following are actually quite interesting and engaging and it gets annoying every time it cuts back to Finn and takes away from any kind of build up the other stories are trying to create.
This plot line could have worked had they made it shorter, in fact, I can think of a way they could have done it that would have been a lot better. But hey, I’m not the one getting paid to write the story. So while the movie forces us to watch this somewhat boring (yet somehow still fun?) subplot, it more than makes up for it in the other two stories.
What’s great about the other two storylines is overall they’re rather subtle and quiet. With the resistance, the biggest conflict is in Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) learning to take orders from Leia’s (Carrie Fisher giving her final onscreen performance) second-in-command Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (an ALWAYS, welcome LAURA DERN! We’ve got LAURA DERN here!). The two basically spend the entire time trying to see who has the bigger lightsaber. Trust me, it’s far more engaging than it sounds.
With Rey on the island, we finally get answers to questions we were left with from the last movie but I’m not going to talk about any of it because there’s no way to do so without ruining it for you. All I’ll say is it’s been worth the wait and there is more than one mini reunion that’s guaranteed to make you scratch the dust out of your eyes.
For me, once again, the most interesting storyline in the entire movie revolves around Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). In my opinion, he has the best story arch any character has ever been given in a “Star Wars” film. With every character we’ve met, we knew exactly what their arch was going to be and what kind of person they were going end up as in the end. With Kylo, we’re still unsure where he’s going to end. He spends the entire movie feeling conflicted as to which side he should truly be on and it takes him on an emotional journey that we haven’t quite seen in these films, not even with Anakin during the prequels. I wish I could say more about it, but I won’t.
The characters in these movies have always been what made us want to keep coming back for more. No matter how cool lightsabers are, if we didn’t care so much about these characters, we wouldn’t care about the franchise. The character development is (for the most part) strong in this entry, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in any of the other stuff that makes us love these films.
The film opens and closes with some of the best space battles we’ve ever seen in the series. There are two lightsaber battles that are completely mesmerizing and there is one scene involving Luke that will get your heart pumping and will go down as one of the most iconic and greatest moments to ever happen in a “Star Wars” film.
As stated earlier, this is Carrie Fisher’s final film performance, which makes her appearance in this film that much more special. She has a larger presence in this film and there were two scenes with her that touched my heart. Hearing her say certain dialog, knowing it’s the last time she’ll ever say it, is bound to get any “Star Wars” fans a little choked up. It feels like we’re finally getting a chance to say goodbye to a woman most of us never knew and yet still loved.
In the end, “The Last Jedi” is one of the best films of the year. It’s exciting and fun but also delivers some truly emotional moments. There are some surprise losses and even a reunion so sweet, we didn’t know we needed it until it happened. There’s just enough callbacks to the original trilogy to get your nostalgic juices flowing but not enough to feel like a cheap knock-off.
The Bottom Line: “The Last Jedi” dares to be new and different. It manages to feel like an old “Star Wars” film but also new at the same time. It took some risks and despite a few bumps, it succeeded and pushes the franchise forward. It’s heading in a new direction, which only guarantees this franchise may just live on forever. In the same way “Empire” was, “Jedi” is a step up from its predecessor. After another one or two viewings, it may just go down as my favorite “Star Wars” film of all time.
P.S. I’m pro porg!