There will be NO SPOILERS in this review, but I will discuss some basic plot points. If you, like me, want to go into the film with little to no knowledge of the plot at all, please stop reading here, go see the film immediately and come back.
After two arduous years of waiting, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is finally here. While we had great filler with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” it just can’t take the place of a good, old fashioned “Star Wars” film. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was a terrific start to what could rival the original “Star Wars” trilogy if it were to play its cards right, and J.J. Abrams set the stage for the series to continue in a grand fashion. But while “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” set the stage, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is where we get to see exactly what this new trilogy is all about. You can’t gauge “Star Wars: A New Hope” without seeing the other three to gather the whole story into place, just like however fun “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” might be, it’s only as powerful as the trilogy following it. Handing the reins to “Looper” and “Brick” director Rian Johnson, the fate of Lucasfilm’s coveted series hangs in the balance of the decisions Johnson makes on this middle installment.
And what can I really say? “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is wondrous.
With the First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in leadership positions, taking the lead upon the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), the team begins to lose hope in the fight as Rey (Daisy Ridley) begins her training with a reluctant Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Cornered in a firefight they can’t win, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hatch a plan with newfound, clever resistance pilot Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), to infiltrate the First Order to put a stop to their assault on the Resistance to continue the fight.
And that’s all I will say on plot. Case closed.
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” might not start exactly where one might think it would, but therein lies the greatest strength of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” among its many strengths, is that it doesn’t go in the expected directions one would expect the film to go from where “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” left off. This is a film that, unlike its predecessor, isn’t forced to necessarily confine itself to any sort of parameters when it comes to the narrative, as there’s nothing really to establish, but more so to build upon. Johnson is given free rein to do as he pleases (within some reason), and he takes the series in new directions, while still keeping its footing firmly planted in what we’ve always loved about the series. Going in new directions, this might give way for some people to perhaps not always connect with what the film seeks to achieve, which is perfectly valid, but for those looking for some variety in their “Star Wars” palette, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has far more appetizing options for you than “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” did.
With this variety, this makes “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” more unpredictable than other mainline “Star Wars” films. With the film going in unexpected directions, it’s hard to place not only how a scene will play out, but what will even be the repercussions of the scene in general? Where will it lead? Where could it lead? How does Johnson stage this and get away with it in the grand scheme of things? You just can’t tell in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and even though “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had its fair share of surprises, those came in quick twists, not in drawn out narrative choices. This makes the entirety of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” feel like ticking time bomb just teasing us to go off at any moment.
With this, I was honestly kind of surprised, and yet somehow pleased, at how intimate “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is as a film. The film is a slower, smaller installment in the series (though when you can describe a film this huge as “small,” that says something about your series as a whole), focusing on drawn out sequences that flow fluidly into each sequence of the film, rather than separating its set pieces into individual scenes throughout the film. If anything, that’s exactly how “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” could be described as: fluid. This is a film that knows how to pace itself perfectly and, at a series record 152 minutes, never feels slow or laggy, despite not being perhaps as epically scoped as other films in the franchise.
Performances from returning cast members are all strong across the boars, especially from Ridley and the late great Fisher. Hamill (despite being the previous installment, for seconds only), returns in a nice change of pace for the character of Luke. Unlike the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Jedi master we were left with in 1983, this current Luke is damaged, distant and burned from his past. Hamill brings a certain sadness to the character we haven’t been able to see in Luke; rage, yes; hurt, sure; but to see Luke in the state he’s in to retreat so far from humanity voluntarily is almost a blow to audience members, but it’s a welcome change to the character that we get to see, unlike some returning character’s changes (or lack thereof).
New supporting players are also quite strong. Tran is a star on the rise, joining the ranks of Ridley and Boyega as the fresh and talented new faces of the “Star Wars” series. A part of me wishes that she were involved with the trilogy from the start, but her introduction to the series at this point makes far more sense than to include her earlier on. Rose is a feisty, lovely character that brings out the best that “Star Wars” heroes have to offer. Laura Dern also joins the ranks as a new Resistance higher-up that also speaks to how diverse the characterizations of “Star Wars” heroes can go, and in Dern fashion, she does it with a gentle ease like no other actor of her generation. She’s not your typical lifesaving battle warrior, but a quiet, behind-the-scenes worker that does her best to fight for the Resistance just as much as those with blasters do. Benicio Del Toro also does wonderful work as DJ, a mysterious, yet magnetic thief that Rose and Finn run across. Del Toro always has a pension for being slimy, terrifying and somehow completely magnetic on screen all at once, and it’s no different here.
Taking on a red color scheme over the neutral tones Abrams went with for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” this might be one of the more stylized “Star Wars” films to come around yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not absolutely stunning by any means. If anything, shaking up the series to take on new looks for each new locale the series takes us to, and for the thematic material Johnson develops with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” red was the right choice here. Obviously, not everything in the film is red, but the way in which it’s used as a bold statement of power in war, it’s quite an interesting take on how a “Star Wars” film should look. Still, we get a lot of different motifs throughout the film, with some scenes evoking a little bit of 007, some harkening back to the vintage film age, etc. Johnson doesn’t just make a “Star Wars” film, he makes a love letter to everything that made “Star Wars” what it is in the process.
While it almost goes without saying, John Williams’ score is also wonderful, building off of the original themes, new themes introduced in the previous installment and even making new themes in the process. Williams knows how to time and introduce each recognizable element of “Star Wars,” past and present into a score that will stand the test of time.
I did not see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in 3D or IMAX, but I can’t imagine that either wouldn’t look stunning regardless. With Johnson shooting some of the film with 70mm IMAX cameras, that should be reason enough to splurge on the premium format. As for the 3D, there are some scenes where I can only imagine how beautiful it also must look in the stereoscopic format, which I will check out both at a later date. Though I would check to see whether your IMAX showing is in 2D or 3D, as many theaters are offering one or the other, but not both.
But does the “Star Wars” series have a place to go from here? Of course it does. It goes without saying that no matter what was to happen in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” that the series would continue in grandiose fashion, even if it were terrible. Lucky for all of us, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” isn’t terrible, in fact, it’s completely and utterly masterful. Some people might not dig the new tone that the series takes, but I think for a series as long and as prosperous as “Star Wars” is, you need to be willing to still take risks, even if 100% of the people don’t completely adore it the first time around, as it’s always better than to play it safe. I think Johnson was the perfect director to take on “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” as he’s a daring, innovative filmmaker that never goes too far outside of what he knows is his audience’s comfort zone, but takes leaps without always knowing if he is to make it to the other side. Lucky for fans, but most luckily to Johnson, he sticks the landing with flying colors (mostly red, though). When dealing with a sequel, it’s easy to feel a bit less enthusiastic as you did for the return of “Star Wars” two years ago, but what works so well here is the unpredictability that Johnson brings to the series, making the feeling of wonder from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” return quickly upon the start of the film when you realize that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is not what you think it’s going to be from first glance. Some may not take to that, but as someone who wants to see the “Star Wars” series take risks, try new things and, pardon my pun, shoot for the stars, you just can’t ask much more from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
So here’s some money, go see a Star War.
Directed by: Rian Johsnon
Starring: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro.
Runtime: 152 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Also available in Dolby Cinema, RealD 3D, IMAX and IMAX 3D.
A Lucasfilm Ltd. production, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a Rian Johnson film