Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Gwendoline Christie, Domhnall Gleason, Laura Dern, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran, and Benicio Del Toro
The battle between good and evil continues in the newest “Star Wars” film. 40 years ago the franchise, which shows no sign of slowing down under Disney’s guidance, created a science fiction opera that pitted a rebellious young boy with astounding hidden skills against an evil empire lead by a masked villain that would become one of cinema’s most iconic characters. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” continues the latest saga, which restarted two years ago with a scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and rogue stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) leading the charge, with an immersive tale that is an impressive visual spectacle but also a story that has humor and heart.
The story picks up nearly immediately after the events of “The Force Awakens”. The Resistance, embattled and suffering heavy casualties in their fight for freedom, are being chased by the First Order. Leia (Carrie Fisher) clings to the hope of finding her brother Luke (Mark Hamill), who has gone into hiding due to his failure with prodigy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Rey is struggling with her new role with the Resistance, but more specifically with motivating Luke to help her hone her new found skills with the Force. Finn is on a journey of his own, this time with help from an ally named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran); the two are tasked with a dangerous mission to help provide safe escape for the Resistance from the First Order’s clutches.
Writer and director Rian Johnson has the difficult task of following J.J. Abrams’ “The Force Awakens”, which was trip down nostalgia avenue that worked in making fans remember why they fell in love with ”Star Wars” in the first place. Mr. Johnson, who has already amassed a quality resume with films like “Brick” and “Looper”, crafts the “The Last Jedi” with all the subtle and purposeful touches one would expect from a “Star Wars” film. These films are manufactured machines that resist the individuality a filmmaker may want to influence, especially a talent like Rian Johnson. So, surprisingly, it’s interesting when Mr. Johnson’s influence successfully peeks through. It’s felt most noticeable with the humor brought into the film, which works in crafting a nice balance at times with the serious tone that is established early on.
Loss is an emotional focus that lingers throughout a majority of the “Star Wars” universe. Whether the loss of life, the loss of freedom, or the loss of self, these films have a tendency to be somewhat downtrodden at times. That’s what makes the journey against the odds so meaningful many times throughout the franchise run. “The Last Jedi” has this quality too, it utilizes the final events of “The Force Awakens” to create an atmosphere that feels anxious and desperate; this makes an early space fight have so much more tension because it feels like no one is safe. But it also allows new characters opportunity to make strong impacts, in particular Finn who is provided more opportunities to delve into the merits of his character.
This quality of loss and redemption is most obvious with the return of Luke Skywalker. The journey for Luke is tragic, the character has lived a life defined by loss. Mark Hamill reprises the role and confidently portrays Luke as a heroic figure who understands the sadness that comes with conflict and the price that comes with victory. Carrie Fisher brings a subtle emotional quality to a character that is throughout the film steadfast and tough. Ms. Fisher’s portrayal of Leia has always been a shining light throughout the “Star Wars” series, her untimely death earlier this year adds a somber sentiment to these scenes. Adam Driver, who plays the big bad Kylo Ren, is one of the more interesting characters in this new installment. Mr. Driver does a nice job of making the petulant and emotionally conflicted character have a genuine human quality that makes the performance so much meaningful when Kylo Ren is given more critical choices to make. That's what ultimately makes Kylo Ren so fascinating as a villain, the fact that choice plays the most prominent role in his creation.
At two and half hours in length, the film has moments that feel long and a little over convoluted. While some characters are provided nice spotlights others are trolled along, given small moments to make an appearance when a narrative shift is needed. Also the structure of the story, which jumps around within three stories lead by Rey, Finn, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) as they two-step with Luke, Leia, and Kylo, has a tendency to create some issues concerning the tone from scene to scene. However, when director Rian Johnson takes control, the film moves in really unique ways, embracing elements that are playful and crafting images that are truly powerful.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” continues the journey of good versus evil in satisfying ways. Rian Johnson does a good job of further solidifying the new characters into the epic mythology that has come before but also provides a place for the original characters to still influence everything in memorable ways. Where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” employed a return to the past to craft their introduction, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” composes a film that is trying to look towards the future, a film that is trying to create its own path. And for the most part, it succeeds.
3.75 out of 5.00