Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Billie Lourd, Benecio del Toro, Gwendoline Christie

Where do I even begin with the task of writing about Star Wars: The Last Jedi when I’ve just returned home from taking it all in for the first time? Repeat viewings will offer a bit of a different analysis. I’m still in a bit of awe filled with just about every emotion one could have from a Star Wars movie. I’d go so far as to say that the stakes are probably higher for The Last Jedi than its predecessor, The Force Awakens. It’s one thing to bring back your favorite characters after thirty years and hope to make a great movie. It’s another to up the ante to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke. Let me tell you; it was not a fluke. Director Rian Johnson, best known for his sci-fi time bender Looper, makes one of the most satisfying and compelling Star Wars films to date.

The First Order, under the direction of Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his minions General Hux (Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Driver), is gaining force on the Resistance, fearlessly lead by Carrie Fisher’s General Leia Organa. It comes with a somber tone when you remember you’re watching Fisher’s final screen performance. We see Snoke livid and in a state of shock at what transpires. He blames Kylo Ren whom he views only as a child and couldn’t possibly be heir to Darth Vader’s throne. It’s quite alarming to watch this scene witnessing another phenomenal Andy Serkis motion-capture performance as he provokes Kylo Ren into a heightened state of anger.

As we saw at the end of The Force Awakens, young fighter Rey (Ridley) had found Luke Skywalker (Hamill) who’s been living in isolation. She’s been sent by Leia to bring Luke back to help fight the war against the First Order. Luke’s days of fighting are long over. The Last Jedi builds on his backstory of what happened in the thirty years since Return of the Jedi. Luke finds himself in the mentor role training Rey in the ways of the Force while Leia and the Resistance desperately try to escape from the clutches of the First Order.

Rian Johnson knows the stakes are incredibly high, not only for the movie, but he brings that level of intensity to these characters. The aftermath of the opening battle sets the ground running by showing Snoke in his physical form. We previously saw him in hologram form, but his physical self makes Vader look tame. Johnson, who also wrote the film, actively tries to combat the tone whenever possible by adding a bit of levity throughout. It’s quite evident when he’s directing actors to be a bit cheeky and playful like Oscar Isaac’s Poe or even the addition of the Porg creatures and Chewbecca’s annoyance with them. They’re Ewok cute without the Jar Jar Binks obnoxiousness. The humor may throw some off, but it feels more in line with the humor of the original trilogy that isn’t always present in recent Star Wars films.

Johnson’s biggest juggle may just be how to find the balance of keeping the Star Wars tone while moving it ahead in a new direction. If you thought The Force Awakens felt like fan service or a rehash of previous plotlines, you should be pleasantly surprised as to how far Johnson actively goes against the grain. This isn’t The Empire Strikes Back all over again. It has the look and feel of the Star Wars we know and love while giving it this crisp and modern design with sharp red tones whenever the First Order is present. Johnson introduces us to a bevy of new characters, creatures, weapons, and a new planet where Finn (Boyega) and new Resistance fighter Rose (Tran) head looking for a code breaker at a casino. The sequence played out like Casino Royale versus Dr. No for those Bond fans out there. It’s a lengthy scene in the middle of the movie. At first glance, it feels oddly out of place, but I go back to the idea of Johnson taking the worlds we know and placing them in an extremely contemporary 21st century atmosphere. It’s not as dated as the original trilogy nor as CGI looking as the prequels.

Where Johnson excels best is realizing that these stories can no longer be about good versus evil, the Jedi versus the Dark Side, etc… It’s about finding that complex middle ground that resides in all of us and the balancing act that comes with it. We see Luke wrestle with the fact that he can no longer live up to the legacy that goes along with being Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. He doesn’t know how to be the hope that is desperately needed. On the other side, Adam Driver gives a stellar performance as Kylo Ren who is constantly battling the evil built up in him versus the good he was born into as the son of Leia and Han Solo. I found Driver quite compelling never knowing which way he was going to turn next. Johnson plays the battles between the Resistance and First Order like an unpredictable chess game giving many of his actors room to evolve with their characters. Laura Dern (Twin Peaks, Big Little Lies) is new to the franchise and is quite memorable as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. She’s a member of the leadership team of the Resistance, and you don’t want to cross her like one of the characters tries to do.

The Last Jedi runs the longest of any Star Wars film as it takes some time to adjust to where returning favorites like Rey, Finn, Poe, and Leia sit while giving us some depth into the backstories of Luke and Kylo Ren. There are three different narratives going throughout culminating into a thrilling no-holds-barred third act. There’s a light saber battle that is one for the books where Johnson reveals that anything can and will happen to these characters. Knowing it’s the middle of the new trilogy I found myself anticipating when the cliffhanger ending would happen. I thought I had it, and then Johnson takes another unexpected turn again. My emotions ran a gauntlet throughout and ended with a tear thanks to its tribute to Carrie Fisher in the closing credits. The Last Jedi gives the audience a diverse cast for young Star Wars fans to look up much like Han, Leia, and Luke did for the older generation. Johnson strengthens and deepens what we know about the Force and the role it plays in all of us. In the end, it provides that reminder that we all need some days about hope and that it’s not about fighting who we hate, but saving those we love.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Thrilling from beginning to end. Rian Johnson delivers every step of the way making The Last Jedi one of the best in the canon.


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