The battle for galactic supremacy wages on in the newest adventure in a galaxy far, far away.
RATING: ★★★ 1/2 (out of four stars)
When Disney and Lucasfilm resurrected the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens in 2015 as the start of a new trilogy, it was very well-received for its compelling new characters and action sequences with a touch of realism, but criticized for being too familiar in terms of plot and story structure to A New Hope, the film that started the original Star Wars trilogy and changed the way movies were made in 1977. The franchise’s die-hard fans have been excited as well as anxious to find out what paths Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo Ren take in the saga’s next entry, The Last Jedi, while others have just been asking for a film that isn’t a retread of arguably the greatest sequel ever made, The Empire Strikes Back. However, I am happy to report that The Last Jedi succeeds as a sequel just as Empire did in 1980, and goes even further by taking its characters to new planets in the Star Wars universe, playing with audience’s expectations, and doing things never seen before in the franchise, thanks in part to the direction of Rian Johnson.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi picks up some time after The Force Awakens left off, as the opening scroll details that the First Order has gained the upper hand in the battle for the galaxy, with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) tracking down what remains of the Resistance with the intention of wiping them out once and for all. But it’s up to Finn (John Boyega) and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to find a man that can help their fleet escape the First Order, leaving Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) struggling to talk the generals of the Resistance into his plan of attack. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) implores Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to come with her and fight alongside the Resistance, teach her the ways of the Force and become a Jedi. But on the mountainous island Rey found him on, Luke has exiled himself over crippling feelings of guilt brought by the destruction of his Jedi Temple, among other incidents.
It’s that guilt that has Luke convinced that the Jedi line of legacy must die with him, and that’s just one of the many ways that the theme of legacy percolates the story of The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren destroys his helmet in a fit of rage after an early battle scene, keeping his inner battle with the light and dark sides of the Force at bay while keeping himself on track to in his words, ‘let the past die’, while the Resistance strives to keep themselves alive as a symbol of hope, the same feeling that the Rebellion stood for in the original trilogy. Rey’s arc throughout the trilogy remains all the more compelling as her quest for her parents takes her to a place on the island that’s as dark as it is surreal, all while she learns more about the Force from Luke, and an unsettling presence calls her to the Dark Side of the Force, in what is one of the best edited sequences of the year.
And the legacy of Star Wars is alive and well as it goes into fresh territory with its aesthetics, complete with a visual style that makes The Last Jedi a unique entry in the franchise. A villainous character in a golden robe is surrounded by guards in armor the same crimson color as the walls in a throne room influenced by the feudal era of Japan, while during a climactic space battle, the Millennium Falcon flies through the caverns of a planet made entirely of shining red crystals. And the planet Finn and Rose travel to oozes with the lavish decadence of high-class hedonism, contrasted by the various but untrustworthy alien races. The film also makes good use of a snarky sense of humor; where the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to add slapstick and misdirect humor when it derails the tension of a scene, the quippy dialogue here provides the necessary levity as it comes at just the right moments while keeping the drama and stakes of their respective scenes high.
Given the fan speculation and theories that followed its predecessor, The Last Jedi also does a great job of playing with expectations by creating an ebb and flow on who to root for and what might happen next as more revelations are disclosed as the story progresses. But on that note, if there are any criticisms to have of the new Star Wars film, it’s that there are moments that could have been executed in a way with more emotional weight to a certain degree, but those moments are few and far in between, and to elaborate on that would take this review into spoiler territory. And while the dynamic between Finn and Rose is fun to watch, it takes a sudden turn in the final moments that feels a bit sudden. But those are minor quibbles in what is otherwise a great blockbuster.
The space battles are still as epic and wondrous as they’ve always been, the themes from the John Williams score hit the right emotional beats, and the imagery only gets more and more dynamic as the film goes along. Kids will fall in love with the new creatures, from the Porg birds to the Crystal Fox, adults will be on the edge of their seat for all 150 minutes of its runtime, and fanboys will have no idea how to predict where this trilogy goes from here. But Star Wars: The Last Jedi makes me all the more excited for what happens next in this character-driven trilogy, happy for the cast and crew involved, and more than eager to return to a galaxy far, far away.