Let the long countdown to the holiday season of 2019 commence. I mean, I guess those of us who weren’t alive or old enough to comprehend time through the years of 1977 to 1983 can take solace in knowing we only have to wait two years for the conclusion of the latest Star Wars trilogy instead of an ungodly three; however, I can safely say that 150 minutes has never felt so short, and 730 days (735 days if you want to get technical) has never felt so far, far away.
Yes, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has arrived, and I am happy to report that it truly couldn’t have been handled any better than it was. I’m not one to go into a movie with expectations, as I find it best to go in with an open mind and allow the journey to speak for itself; though, with Star Wars, you can’t help but hope you’ll be transported on a magical journey through the galaxy with characters we love, or are meeting for the first time – and writer/director Rian Johnson does just that with The Last Jedi.
Being the middle chapter of a trilogy allows Johnson some freedoms in that the main characters and story foundations have been introduced, so we’re able to jump right into the action. Comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back are inevitable (odds are most won’t heavily debate comparisons between Attack of the Clones – and understandably so) much like The Force Awakens was met with many side-by-side comparisons to how it mirrored multiple story points from A New Hope.
While I personally didn’t mind the certain similarities of The Force Awakens and A New Hope, some did, and those same people will be pleased to hear that while The Last Jedi does separate our heroes much like Empire did, there are also quite a few twists and turns along the way that really make The Last Jedi stand apart from any Star Wars film that’s come before it.
Since The Force Awakens, conspiracy theories have run rampant across the Internet, trying to figure out who Rey’s parents are, who Supreme Leader Snoke actually is, and other mysterious things that were only touched upon in the first film. In The Last Jedi, Johnson answers some of those questions in a way that won’t satisfy all, but in a way that I absolutely loved.
I’m not big into conspiracy theories, so I never read them or got into any discussions, but even browsing various sites you couldn’t help but scroll by discussions about how Rey may be Obi-Wan Kenobi’s long lost daughter (not sure how the math ever added up on that one,) or was possibly Luke’s daughter, or even that she was Han and Leia’s daughter, and in turn, Kylo Ren’s sister. These theories always just made me shake my head at just how ludicrous it would be to force such a link between characters. Even J.J. Abrams came out and said that Rey’s parents weren’t in Episode 7, which basically negated all of the above as options, aside from Kenobi — which again, one should be able to realize isn’t mathematically possible even without a calculator nearby. Luckily, Rian Johnson handles Rey’s parental storyline exactly how I’d always hoped it would play out, and it works perfectly.
The second chapter in a trilogy is also often the darkest, and The Last Jedi definitely keeps that tradition up. For those expecting Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to fully embrace Rey (Daily Ridley) and train her in the ways of the Force simply because she brought him back his lightsaber, well, you’d be wrong. While we know that Luke felt responsible for Ben Solo’s (Adam Driver) falling to the dark side, we never knew just how deeply affected Luke was by this. It’s clear rather quickly that this isn’t the hero of legends that we all grew up with anymore, and Johnson gives Hamill some incredible material to work with here.
Learning more about the relationship between Luke and Ben Solo, what happened during their training, the fallout from that, and why Luke truly went off to find the first Jedi Temple is incredibly engrossing. This is easily Hamill’s best work to date in the franchise (yes, I’m even putting it above his Oscar worthy turn to face the camera at the end of The Force Awakens) and the seriousness he brings to this aspect of the story sets the tone for the entire film, and just how dire the consequences of all actions can truly be.
While Luke is hesitant to give Rey the time of day, this doesn’t stop her from having to deal with Force dreams she keeps having, or a newfound bond she shares with Kylo Ren, where the two are able to communicate with one another at random times, and even physically interact on some level as well via the Force. While we’ve seen this sort of connection before with Luke calling out to Leia on Bespin through the Force, the interaction between Rey and Kylo is next level Force communiqué, and adds a fun, intriguing layer to the development of these two prime characters.
Ridley gives another superb performance this time out, building off her outstanding debut in The Force Awakens. The chemistry between her and Driver is astounding. Their work together in The Last Jedi really helps add a level of ongoing tension and uncertainty that a darker tale like this thrives upon. Driver is brilliant, really getting to dig his heels into the role, and play an even more emotionally conflicted Kylo Ren than we saw in The Force Awakens. This conflict that haunts Kylo makes him such an interesting character, and Driver feeds on that inner turmoil to help make Kylo so much more than just a young, angst-ridden Darth Vader wannabe that some (I believe, wrongfully) viewed him as in TFA.
What I also loved was Johnson’s handling of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the role he plays in everything. Again, The Force Awakens left a lot up in the air with Snoke, such as what his end game is, how he got involved in this war in the first place, and whether or not he may be someone of importance from a past installment back for revenge. While not all of those questions are answered this time out, the direction Johnson chooses to go with Snoke is admirable and really, just flat out awesome. I’m sure plenty will be up in arms about certain aspects of it; but you can’t please everyone, and in the big picture this was just such a cooler, unique path to take with the Supreme Leader.
While the film is plenty dark, there are also plenty of laughs along the way. Johnson does a superb job of balancing heavy themes and character developments with comedic spots or lines that don’t feel forced, and just naturally flow with the story. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) once again leads the way with the wisecracks out of the gate, and while he had some great moments in TFA, Poe also gets a lot meatier story to work with this time out.
Again, actions and consequences come into play, as Poe likes to show off his masterful piloting skills and do whatever it takes to complete a mission, whatever the cost. This doesn’t sit well with General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who demotes Poe after one of these instances for not being the true leader that she needs him to be.
It’s definitely hard to see Carrie Fisher on screen knowing that this was her last role. She brought to life one of the first heroines that proved the leading lady didn’t need to be relegated to simply being the damsel in distress. Now in The Last Jedi, we get to see her show off Leia in a powerful military leadership role like we hadn’t really seen before, which is both a joy and heartbreaking to watch, simultaneously.
Finn (John Boyega) also gets a side story alongside newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), a Resistance mechanic. After learning that the First Order has a tracking device that’s allowing them to track the fleet, even through hyperspace, the duo go on a mission with BB-8 to find a mysterious master hacker that can help them get on to Snoke’s ship undetected and disable the tracking device. Rose is a fun and interesting character that helps add some depth to the Resistance by giving backstory to a lower level crew member, and bringing them into the spotlight more to help give perspective on why others in the galaxy outside of our core group of heroes are fighting against The First Order.
What works so great with the separate stories that Johnson has created for each character is how well they inevitably weave together to form an incredibly strong overall narrative. Nobody ever feels like they’re doing something just for the sake of keeping busy or getting specific characters on screen. Well, except for Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who once again has a smaller role compared to how many thought her second outing in the franchise would be handled. I actually forgot about her character until she showed up well into the movie.
I also have to talk about the visuals and score of the film, both of which are some of the best the series has had to date. John Williams returns once again as the film’s composer, and once again he helps bring the film to life in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without him. On the visual side of things, The Last Jedi is a visual masterpiece. The planetary locations used throughout are absolutely gorgeous and all bring new, often jaw-dropping imagery not used before in the franchise. The battle of Scarif at the end of Rogue One was a beautiful locale choice for such a destructive event, and in keeping with unique battle sequences, The Last Jedi has an epic battle take place on the mining planet Crait. Filled with white and red contrasts that grow as the battle progresses, this is truly a wondrous confrontation to behold.
I’m having trouble putting into words just how much I love and am elated by the risks and chances Johnson has taken in the creation of The Last Jedi. He never looks to play it safe, and while there’s definitely an overall narrative that he likely had to follow with certain plot points, he just pulls no punches at all during the film’s 150-minute runtime. This may not sit well with everyone, and some of the choices made will no doubt drive some mad, but everything about how this movie was handled helps set it apart from anything we’ve seen from other movies in the franchise, while also making sure it fits in perfectly as a newly cherished chapter to this much beloved space saga.
In short: The Last Jedi is an instant classic!
Director: Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson
Notable Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis.
Brendan Campbell was here when Inside Pulse Movies began, and he’ll be here when it finishes - in 2012, when a cataclysmic event wipes out the servers, as well as everyone else on the planet other than John Cusack and those close to him. Brendan’s the #1 supporter of Keanu Reeves, a huge fan of popcorn flicks and a firm believer that sheer entertainment can take a film a long way. He currently resides in Canada, where, for reasons stated above, he’s attempting to get closer to John Cusack.