Expect nothing, be ready for anything. This is the closest thing I can tell anyone about Star Wars: The Last Jedi without spoilers. That and for the first time ever this is a Star Wars movie that I would recommend seeing twice. Not just because of how damn good it is, but also because it requires it. I’ve seen each Star Wars movie at least twice since Disney bought Lucasfilm, but that was more out of a want and desire for the kick of nostalgia. But this, this is different. It needs to be seen for the bold choices it makes, and the universe it widens. What Rian Johnson managed to do here is make a wholly familiar Star Wars film that feels extremely different at the same time. Some will love it, some will not. But one thing’s for sure, it will have fans talking for decades.
Returning from The Force Awakens is our main players of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Snoke (Andy Serkis), as well as newcomers like Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Joining them from the Original Trilogy is the late, but no less great Carrie Fisher as General Leia. There is a sadness that underlines the film with the knowledge of Carrie Fisher’s death. Make no mistake, she gets her time to shine here more than she did in her previous outing. It seems that with each movie an Original Trilogy cast member gets their time to shine. In The Force Awakens it was Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. In this it is so very clearly Luke. And unfortunately, with the knowledge that the next movie would have clearly focused on Leia, that fact that Carrie Fisher won’t be around for it fills me (and plenty of others) with sadness. But what Leia does here is great, and it is more than a fitting farewell to the character.
However, this is a movie that is very much about Luke Skywalker and next to Kylo Ren (who gets one hell of a personal journey) his is a journey that will have fans talking for ages. Before its release, Hamill was quoted in saying that he “fundamentally disagreed with the direction of Luke” in this entry. Throughout the course of the movie I can see why. Luke Skywalker is my hero. He is in my DNA as the man I wanted to become, as the quintessential hero to end all heroes. The idealistic man who believed in his Father, one of the most dangerous and evil men in the galaxy, to still have good in him. This is a character who believed in the fundamental goodness of others, no matter their background. But this older Luke is not the Luke I grew up with. And for good reason. But with age comes wisdom, maybe not for Luke, but definitely for Mark Hamill. He plays Luke very much not like Obi-Wan or Yoda, but as a jaded grump. A grump that’s a bit of dick, that’s also fun, while having legitimate concerns for what his legacy means for the rest of the galaxy. It’s a great turn for Hamill and he plays his part beautifully. This movie belongs to him, with implications that expand the ever-growing Star Wars mythology in new and exciting ways.
For the returning characters, everyone here gets something legitimately exciting to do. Whether a crowd-pleasing action scene or an integral character arc, no character is wasted for even a second. The biggest of which belongs to both Rey and Kylo. Spoiling how this happens and how they tie into each other would be robbing you the reader of one of the most entertaining and interesting character interactions in all the film. Rey wants to find her place in the galaxy alongside her heroes like Skywalker, while Kylo Ren’s motivations are less clear. It’s evident that his game is much more cerebral and internal than in TFA. Both he and Luke have the best arcs in the entire movie and I can’t wait to see more. Finn joins the newcomer Rose, a technician for the Resistance. Their story takes them to the casino planet Canto Bight where they encounter a greyer side to the war, a plot point similarly explored in Rogue One, that seems to have bigger implications here than it did there. Rose herself embodies an amazing character, one who proves that you don’t always need the Force to be great. Kelly Marie Tran gives her a hopefulness that is sorely missing from the franchise, one that is of pure love and admiration, something we all could use these days. Poe Dameron gets tested against the likes of Admiral Holdo, a commander of great renown, with a confrontation that boils over in unexpected ways. Also returning is both General Hux (Domhnhall Gleeson) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Though their roles are minor (some very much more than others), both get shining moments, with Gleeson’s Hux getting (rather surprisingly) some of the best laughs of the movie. However, it needs to be said, while Phasma does get *more* to do than the last time around, her role is still very minimal and I wonder if it could have been cut entirely, especially in light of her interactions (or lack thereof) in The Force Awakens. Of our major characters introduced in The Force Awakens, each of them gets a role that some may find slightly problematic or downright egregious, but others will cherish and cheer for. Their roles absolutely fit into the underlying theme of the film, one that’s rather stated explicitly at times, but they no less fill the puzzle piece that is the message that The Last Jedi wants to convey.
As with the rest of the mainline Star Wars films, John Williams returns to score The Last Jedi. While there aren’t many new motifs besides Finn and Rose’s new theme, William’s does bring back older themes with a touch of sentimentality. Nowhere is this more apparent than Leia, as his new piano version of her theme gives one of her best scenes added weight, especially when it was used again in the credits when tears were brought to my eyes. Overall, I have to say I am somewhat disappointed with the lack of new motifs and movements. Though William’s has seemed to move in a different phase of his career in terms of making music, none of the themes sound or feel particularly memorable. Maybe I’m wrong, and they will be hummed and played in orchestras thirty years from now. But for now, they lack the character that has been such a defining tradition of these movies. What we do have is good, and in light of Carrie Fisher’s passing, it’s definitely emotional, but I do hope the next installment is more memorable in this department.
Prior to its release, many were afraid that The Last Jedi was going to be a retread of The Empire Strikes Back. If anything, it’s structure is the only thing reminiscent of the beloved film, but that begins and ends with our heroes splitting up, and Rey being trained by Luke. This is very much its own movie in many ways. It’s undoubtedly a Star Wars film through and through, but Rian Johnson imbues it with an energy and imagery that at times make it feel like a totally different film. And this is in both the film’s and the franchise’s best interest. For the first time in a long time, this feels like a Star Wars film that belongs to the director and for that it is very distinct. The Last Jedi is gorgeous, even more so than Rogue One. There are shots in this film that are absolutely insane and they will sit with you long after the credits roll.
It’s hilarious, it’s emotional, and it’s the first Star Wars film that has something to say. This is a film that expands the Star Wars universe in massive ways, in both the implications of the Force and the wider universe at large. Leaving the film, it’s easy to see why Lucasfilm granted Rian Johnson his own brand new original trilogy, and basing it off of this alone, I am ridiculously excited. There are some characters that are largely wasted, and the music isn’t as iconic as I would’ve hoped. But these little problems are nothing when looking at the whole picture. The Last Jedi is the Star Wars film I feel most of the fans have been waiting for since Return of the Jedi. It’s bold, it’s different, it’s daring. But not everything you want will be answered, and if it is, it may not be what you expect. You only need to hear Luke in the second trailer when he says; “This is not going to go the way you think”. He is so right in so many ways. Not just for who he is talking to, but for the movie as a whole. Leave your half-baked fan theories at the door. Leave your expectations for what you want at the door. This is a bold new direction for Star Wars, and J.J. Abrams has massive shoes to fill when Episode IX releases two years from now. As I write this, many are divided on how they feel about the film, and while I disagree that this film is as bad as the prequels or worse, there is discourse to be had about the film for years to come. For the first time we have a real Star Wars film to rival the juggernaut that is Empire Strikes Back for the title of the best Star Wars film. For the first time we have hope, not just for the next Saga entry, but the series as a whole. For the first time in a long time with Star Wars, I finally feel that I am taking my first steps into a larger world. We only need to believe that we all can be Luke Skywalker.