Anticipation is always high going into a new Star Wars movie, but you could argue “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” had the most pressure. Coming off of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” fans were eager for something different.
While “The Force Awakens” is immensely entertaining, it also caters heavily to nostalgia, call backs to the original trilogy and a need to please and reenergize fans with the franchise. It’s basically a greatest hits album.
“The Last Jedi” on the other hand needed to take the characters introduced in the last entry and develop them while also celebrating the familiar ones we’ve come to love. And for the most part, director Rian Johnson succeeds.
“The Last Jedi” picks up right where we left off in “The Force Awakens” as Rey (Daisy Ridley) tracks down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in an attempt to convince him to not only train her in the ways of the force, but also help the Resistance defeat the First Order.
Time is of the essence too as the First Order has found a way to track rebel fighters through hyper speed. Outgunned, undermanned and low on fuel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the Resistance could use all the help it can get.
Johnson smartly bypasses yet another death star sub plot in favor of a rich and compelling story line between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). If “The Force Awakens” was about remembering the past, “The Last Jedi” focuses on moving on and forging a new path.
“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to,” says one character. What makes these three and their performances so astounding is that they’re each conflicted about their place in the world despite all coming from a different perspective or circumstance.
Rather than showing heroes and villains, Johnson has crafted areas of grey that keeps the audience unsure as the film progresses. Will Rey be influenced by the dark side? Can Kylo Ren be convinced to forgive Leia and Luke? What choice will Luke make? We don’t really know until the end.
These are damaged characters and Driver in particular shines. He is selfish and vain at times, but he also reveals vulnerability and complexity. Marvel should take note about writing villains.
Mark Hamill gives his best performance to date. While he’s marooned on the island for the majority of the film, the character is given ample time to come to terms with his guilt for being unable to keep Kylo Ren from turning to the dark side. That earnestness in Luke is long gone, but he still has lessons to learn. Luke also gets some of the best jokes in the film as well as a wonderful reunion scene with R2-D2.
As for other characters, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is given more to do this time around, but I wish he was a little more suave and a little less serious. New characters: including Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) make the most of their screen time and Benicio Del Toro shows up for yet another “I’m in a different movie” performance.
This brings us to the major flaw with the film which is the Finn (John Boyega) story line. We’re now two movies in and they still haven’t figured out what to do with his character. Unmasking a storm trooper seemed like a cool idea on paper, but Boyega has been relegated to comic relief.
Finn and Rose go on a mission in search of something that — while being key to the film’s plot — felt like a detour that sapped momentum from the film. Finn does have an opportunity near the end to redeem himself, but Johnson (Or the studio) gets cold feet.
Despite being the longest Star Wars film at 2 1/2 hours, “The Last Jedi” flies by thanks to an exhilarating opening scene, compelling scenes between Rey, Luke and Kylo Ren and a thrilling climax that features the best light saber battle to date.
And just when you think the film is going to end, there’s another exhilarating set piece that uses hyper speed in such a way that we’ve never seen before.
The jokes work, the porgs aren’t annoying and the final shot encapsulates the entire franchise which is that a person’s drive and talent has nothing to do with where they come from.
“The Last Jedi” is a refreshingly “different” kind of Star Wars movie that takes interesting turns. Not only is it the best in the series since “The Empire Strikes Back,” but it sets up an intriguing finale to this new trilogy.