Star Wars films come with certain expectations. It’s an intimidating task for any filmmaker to take any kind of chance with the beloved franchise. So it’s especially impressive seeing writer/director Rian Johnson take some very real chances with what many see as sacred material and be successful.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an exciting change to the Star Wars saga, completely turning every fan’s expectations on their heads. Visually beautiful, the film tells a dire story about heroes, meaningful sacrifices, and legend versus reality. The film doesn’t give us the answers we expect, leading to some great plot turns that will make you cheer, laugh or cry.
However, The Last Jedi does falter with some odd plot choices that don’t always add up. There is one that almost took me out of the movie. But overall, this is one of the more ambitious, and more importantly great, Star Wars movies.
“This Is Not Going to Go The Way You Think”
On the surface, the story driving The Last Jedi is straight forward. Rey (Daisy Ridley) does her best to bring Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) out of his self imposed exile as the Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) Resistance tries to escape the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) struggles to embrace the Dark Side while hot shot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) desperately fights to save his companions on the run. Finn (John Boyega) recovers from his wounds from the previous film and once again acts rashly in an attempt to save Rey. These stories take place in one of the most visually stunning films the modern Star Wars franchise. The CGI is stunning and the action is often breathtaking.
But hidden in the blockbuster adventure and surprising humor are deep themes of sacrifice and heroes. What makes a hero? When is a sacrifice meaningful? Are heroes as pure as they appear? And most importantly, are we beholden to our past? The Last Jedi poses these questions with maturity and doesn’t give us the answers we would expect. It’s hard to describe without completely spoiling the movie, but characters old and new learn that this story will not go the way any of them thought it would. And it is an absolutely brilliant choice.
Yes, there is fan service. But there is also the humanizing of legends while new ones are born. There are subtle new hopes rising from unexpected let downs. Heroism is shown in non-traditional forms. Many of these turns rely on the characters.
Every performance is on point. Daisy Ridley continues her ascent to stardom with a stellar turn as Rey. The character is coming into her own in the film without becoming an all-knowing superhero. She grows into her role in this universe and you will come out of the film believing a new legend is beginning.
On the Dark Side, Adam Driver is superb as Kylo Ren. Writer/director Johnson takes the burgeoning villain from The Force Awakens and brings him into some unexpected but absolutely brilliant territory. Driver’s powerful performance occasionally goes over the top, but it fits Kylo’s story. This could have been a farcical performance, but he brings just the right amount of control to the volatile character.
John Boyega brings the same fun energy to Finn from The Force Awakens, though his side story isn’t the strongest (More on this later). His manic demeanor is once again the source of some of the humor, but he is also given some emotional moments. Like Rey, the character is coming into his own and learning that there is more to the galaxy than an obsession with a girl.
Boyega has good chemistry with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose. As an Asian American who has loved this franchise, it’s great to see a person who looks like me in a Star Wars film. Along with her sister, she gets a few heroic moments that brought me to the verge of tears.
Tran gives the character a likeable wide eyed perspective…she is basically the “nerd who made it,” the fan who heard the legends and suddenly gets a chance to take part. She is the obvious audience surrogate, learning that heroes are not always obvious.
But most will walk away with Mark Hamill’s turn as the legendary Luke Skywalker in their heads. He is funny, charismatic, and most importantly, tragic. Hamill gives his most well-known character a very human sense of regret. It’s everywhere in his performance, from his cynical dialogue to his movement. It is a risky choice from both Hamill and Johnson, but it pays off in emotional ways. He will bring tears to any die hard Star Wars fan with this performance.
I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This…
While The Last Jedi’s themes and general plot are spot on, there are some subplots that stumble. As mentioned above, Finn’s story is not the strongest. While both he and Rose are fun characters, there is a forced romantic story that never quite hits. This is not a spoiler, as it becomes obvious early on in their relationship.
Their adventure also brings them to one of the weakest settings of the film. The casino planet of Canto Bight is beautiful and is Johnson’s attempt to show just how grey his take on the Star Wars Universe can get, but it feels like a missed opportunity. This world and story may have worked better as a standalone as the lone setting because this fascinating world is given what amounts to a cursory glance.
Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious character DJ is given the same treatment. Del Toro isn’t bad in the role at all…he is actually entertaining as the odd character. But we aren’t given a whole lot of time with him and the story beats that happen around him are interesting, but don’t quite hit the way they should. Again, it’s a missed opportunity.
But Poe’s story is the victim of poor execution. Like Del Toro, Isaac is not bad in the role. His Poe is still charmingly cocky, but also convincingly desperate as the Resistance begins to run out of options in their desperate escape. His character arc is clear, but getting there is so messy, it nearly pulled me out of the film.
The plot involves unnecessary secrecy that leads to manufactured drama. It doesn’t feel genuine and will frustrate fans of well-written plots (Which I hope is quite a few of you). It also undercuts Laura Dern’s new character Admiral Holdo, making her look foolish and stubborn. This is one of those situations you see in films that could be remedied if characters simply talked to each other. Carrie Fisher is great as Leia, as the Resistance is clearly hers. She is the ultimate leader, the only one who has a clear vision throughout. But her screentime is limited and she has one moment that is almost laughably silly.
A New Direction
Those issues aside, The Last Jedi is still a fun and often brilliant chapter in the Star Wars universe. I can understand why some die hard Star Wars fans are divided over some of the chances the film takes. These choices are small, but drastic in what they mean for the Star Wars saga in the future. When The Last Jedi ends its breathtaking final act, it is unclear where Episode Nine will go.
And that is more exciting than anything else. There is a massive galaxy to explore now and how can any self-respecting Star Wars fan not be excited?
SCORE: 8.5 PORGS OUT OF 10