Star Wars: The Last Jedi is here, amidst all of the fanfare and build-up that only a major Star Wars release could carry. The film lives up to all of that anticipation, providing an epic space opera, while advancing the stories of generations of protagonists. It’s a masterpiece, thanks to tight writing, brilliant acting, and more than a few nods to the creative minds who have paved the way.
Episode VIII, the middle act of the third Star Wars trilogy, is uncharted waters. As famous character Admiral Ackbar has stated in an earlier installment, “It’s a trap!” Critics and naysayers crawl from every corner of the internet. Episode VII: The Force Awakens was divisive to some audiences. Critics claimed it was just a remake of the original film. The same critics viewed a single trailer of The Last Jedi and shouted that it was simply a remake of The Empire Strikes Back. This isn’t a spoiler – they’re wrong.
<No Spoilers in this Review>>
The Last Jedi is an epic in length, in scope, and in spectacle. The film opens immediately after the events of The Force Awakens. In true “start with action” fashion, the resistance is being hunted, and chased, by the First Order. General Hux has been ordered to eliminate their remaining forces. His fleet of star destroyers is challenged by one lone spaceship – a single X-wing fighter piloted by the most talented (and most sarcastic) pilot among the resistance. Commander Poe Dameron buys his colleagues time to escape while taking on impossible odds in a single fighter against an armada.
The initial scene is among the largest space battles ever to hit the screen of a Star Wars film. It is orchestrated with precision and scored with passion. It also serves to show an important aspect of war: every victory comes at a price. Poe’s courageous efforts are not without a cost to the resistance. That becomes a theme of the entire film. War is not without mercy, regardless of which side one claims as their own.
The film continues to follow the resistance escape efforts. Mad Max: Fury Road has been described as two halves of a movie – a chase scene and then a race scene. The majority of The Last Jedi is a slow chase scene, as one side of the war seeks to outlast the other. During that time, all of the mysterious, complicated, and intricate aspects that make a Star Wars movie personal take place.
The presence of Star Wars’ original trilogy of heroes – Han Solo, Luke & Leia Skywalker is all over this story. The fates of the universe’s second set of protagonists – Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron is also in the forefront. My initial concern from the trailers was that Poe would be the odd man out, as Rey and Finn’s respective stories advanced. Thankfully, that doubt is addressed early. All three of these heroes get their time to shine. Poe is the hotheaded, all-guns-blazing, would-be hero, and it works for him and against him. Finn is the everyman, as he has always been. He resonates with the enlisted. He simply wants to do what’s right.
Rey’s battle is deeper and much more conflicted. The most Force-aware of the heroes, she must recognize her role, while dealing with potential allies, teachers, and enemies alike. Daisy Ridley walks the many tightropes of Rey’s character, inspiring hope and compassion with each step. Oscar Isaac’s Poe is the kind of commander that troops will rally behind. John Boyega’s Finn is the soldier viewers would want to stand beside. The late Carrie Fisher is the emotional anchor of the film as General Leia Organa. Mark Hamill reprises his role as Luke Skywalker, and he steals the entire film.
John Williams once again scores a film in the series, and delivers one of the most complex soundtracks of them all. He overlays several of the scenes with the many overlaying themes from the characters. This approach keeps viewers second-guessing their opinions of the characters and their motives. In the end, there are plenty of changes in influence, power, and motive. Viewers may meet a character, doubt who they are or who they will become, and find themselves surprised.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a satisfying, gigantic step forward for all of the major characters in the franchise. There are shifts of power, shifts of awareness, and changes to the dynamic of the war itself. This film faithfully serves to accelerate and challenge the future episodes by bringing a brilliant, succinct, and most of all complete story to old school and new fans of the Star Wars franchise.