Author’s Note: This is an advanced, spoiler-free review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells Rey (Daisy Ridley), “This is not going to go the way you think.” That line proves to be true for just about every plot thread, every scene, every moment in the entire movie. Writer/director Rian Johnson packs the eighth episode in the Skywalker saga with genuine surprises of all kinds, which all amount to a thrilling, emotional, and funny film that is easily the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back.

J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens got dinged for borrowing too much from A New Hope, but recycling old material isn’t an issue in The Last Jedi. It’s evident that Johnson understands the criticisms about every preceding film and predicted the assumptions about this one (to the point where some dialogue sounds as if it was lifted right from fans’ mouths), and that he used that knowledge to absolutely shatter expectations. There are fan-pleasing moments, for sure, but nothing is included without a purpose. Johnson plays with all the toys Star Wars has to offer, and he’s not afraid to change – or break – a few along the way.

The story picks up right after the events of the Force Awakens, with the First Order setting out to conquer a Republic-less galaxy by destroying the Resistance (natch). Meanwhile, Rey tries her best to convince an ornery Luke to leave his secluded, Porg-infested island and rejoin the fight. The story wastes no time setting the stakes astronomically high, and things only get more dire from there. It’s by far the most tense and exciting Star Wars adventure, and surprisingly, it’s also the funniest.

Johnson manages to tell a deeply personal yet large-scale tale that gives every character a moment to shine. The film moves at a brisk pace, covering an impressive amount of ground while still finding time for slower, more methodical scenes, not to mention well-placed moments of levity. The first half is so exciting and involved that Johnson is able to hide the fact he’s setting up the truly stunning moments still to come. By the time The Last Jedi ends, the Star Wars universe feels like it’s been through an entire trilogy’s worth of revelations. That’s why it’s so satisfying to watch: it feels more like a complete story than your typical installment of Star Wars.

One of the major changes is that Hamill is no longer playing Luke as the archetypal hero – he’s now a conflicted, deeply damaged Jedi master. He rises to the occasion with his finest performance as Luke, using the timbre of his voice and the pain in his eyes to express Luke’s reluctance to confront his past, let alone help Rey mold her future. There’s a frankly brilliant sense of poetry to Luke’s story in this movie, with elements that harken all the way back to the start of his journey in beautiful fashion.

Ridley and Hamill play off each other well, expressing a strange mix of frustration and empathy for one another, resulting in something vastly more interesting than the expected master-student relationship. The big questions from The Force Awakens regarding Rey’s family are the same ones that drive her throughout The Last Jedi, and Ridley is utterly captivating as Rey uses her strengthening relationship with the Force to explore them. Her narrative isn’t unlike that of Kylo Ren, who is played with a tortured psyche and haunted demeanor by Adam Driver as he strives to please his own mentor, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They’re both struggling with their parental figures and want to shape their destinies, and how the story addresses that proves to be the most memorable and undoubtedly polarizing part of the film. No one will ever say Johnson didn’t take any risks.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, even though the Resistance is in quite the pickle, its members can’t decide on the best course of action to combat the First Order. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is still the hotshot pilot you remember, but his brashness soon gets him into hot water with the leadership, General Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) have their own plan to save the day which takes them to the casino city of Canto Bight, where people and aliens of all shapes and sizes live in excess. This new locale is overflowing with weird and wondrous alien designs, like a Mos Eisley cantina for the galaxy’s one-percenters, and it serves to demonstrate a different kind of evil than the militaristic First Order while also showing the disenfranchised people worth fighting a star war for. That’s also where we meet Benicio del Toro’s unscrupulous hacker character, DJ, who, with his small but effective part, makes a slimy yet profound impression by sharing a morally gray worldview that isn’t usually expressed in the black-and-white world of Star Wars.

Both of these storylines have their merits, but are also what cause The Last Jedi to lose a bit of its momentum in the middle. The Canto Bight setting provides some resonant material for Finn, who struggles with his position as a cog in the war machine; and Rose is a compelling new addition to the Star Wars family thanks to Tran’s energetic and determined characterization, but their subplot feels a bit unwieldy at times. Isaac and Dern have an electric chemistry as their characters butt heads, but that drama bogs down an already dense story. None of these elements are inherently bad, mind you, there’s just so much going on already that things can get a tad cumbersome. However, it is to Johnson’s credit that the movie is so powerful and engaging overall that it succeeds wildly anyway.

Fisher passed away last year after completing her work on The Last Jedi, leaving us with her final performance, which proves to be the best part of the Resistance scenes. She’s a wizened leader with the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders, having to deal with young upstarts like Poe who aren’t too dissimilar from her in her princess years. Yet for all of her responsibility, she exudes a compassionate warmth and isn’t above a bit of wry humor. Some of her lines have her ruminate on purpose and loss, lines that now evoke a special double meaning.

John Williams once again delivers a soul-stirring Star Wars score – a feat that must be second nature to him by now. Thundering arrangements turn skirmishes into epic battles, new compositions emphasize the sense of adventure, and old themes make appearances for a touch of nostalgia. There’s a reason George Lucas calls Williams’ music the “secret sauce” of Star Wars.

What’s most impressive about The Last Jedi is that Johnson managed to make an incredibly faithful Star Wars movie that embraces the franchise’s most beloved elements while also giving it a tone and style all his own. He’s brought a modernity to the film, from the glib and self-aware jokes right down to the way he chose to film it. Johnson takes Rey’s Force learnings as an opportunity to shoot scenes unlike anything we’ve seen before in a Star Wars entry, resulting in a gorgeous audio-visual treat in one scene and a trippy mind-bender in another. The space dogfights and ground battles borrow elements from real-world war movies to make them all the more harrowing, not unlike the Vietnam-inspired Rogue One.

The Verdict

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the quintessential Star Wars movie. It embraces everything in the franchise that came before while taking big risks to push the story into new and unexpected places. While there are a few subplots that weigh it down in the middle, everything ultimately works toward delivering an absolutely stunning sequence of events that make its emotionally rich ending a possibility. It’s dramatic, it’s exciting, it’s heartfelt, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s funnier than any Star Wars movie has any right to be. It doesn’t answer every lingering fan question but it darn well delivers on the ones it chooses to address, ending things on a satisfying note even though there’s one more chapter in this trilogy. And on top of all that, the final scene bucks all Star Wars trends, yet it works because it’s reflective of what makes the saga as a whole so special.

Editors’ Choice



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