Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

From director Rian Johnson, who is already concocting where the Star Wars franchise is set to go in the near future with yet another trilogy in the works, comes the filmmaker's first dip into the sci-fi powerhouse with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Making waves like no Star Wars film has done before, with his technical methods and his radical narrative shifts making for an unpredictable, high-stakes adventure, Johnson's first step into the ever-expanding galaxy far, far away has easily become the most talked-about film of 2017. However polarizing the blockbuster might be, the eighth "episode" in the science fiction franchise ultimately delivered one of the most satisfying and shocking films to hit the screen this year.

With the First Order and the Resistance still entangled in the jaws of war, the former seeking to crush the rebel forces and acquire the location of reclusive Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads the rebellion with the aid of pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). After a near-crippling stand against the First Order, the rebellion is left exposed to the clutches of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who longs to destroy his past, beginning with his mother Leia. As the Resistance struggles to stay one step ahead of their enemies in the depths of space, Rey (Daisy Ridley) enlists in the help of Skywalker on the planet Ahch-To. Quickly uncovering dark secrets from not only Luke's past, but in her future as well, Rey must confront her feelings on the Force and her connection to both Luke and Kylo Ren. Confronting these feelings, however, will bring about a string of shocking revelations that will shift the tides of war forever.

While superhero blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League, and compelling outings like Blade Runner 2049 and The Disaster Artist easily marked some of the biggest films I was most eager to see in 2017, nothing was perhaps more anticipated than the latest and perhaps most cryptic installment in the Star Wars franchise. With The Last Jedi inviting fans to return to the sequel trilogy that kicked off with the formulaic yet satisfying Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the sequel presented a narrative that was set to shake any expectations we had about not only the newest characters of the series, but the classic ones in Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa as well. Delivering a fulfilling follow-up to The Force Awakens, while expanding on the Star Wars universe in many unexpected ways, The Last Jedi made for a dynamic showcase for director Rian Johnson and his colossal imprint on the franchise.

Working as the follow-up to J.J. Abrams' stellar The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi had a number of things to both progress and correct concerning not only Abrams' next generation of heroes, but also many elements of the Star Wars franchise up to this point. While yearning to continue the paths of heroes Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron, and villain Kylo Ren as well, The Last Jedi also held the major challenge of propelling Star Wars legend Luke Skywalker to something beyond the reclusive hermit we saw in the final seconds of The Force Awakens. Tackling a handful of new and old characters such as this is no simple task, but for director Rian Johnson, he managed to balance them well around an action-packed story full of not only breathtaking thrills, but plenty of emotional weight as well.

As I went into The Last Jedi, I was quick to compare it to another penultimate chapter in the franchise, one full of enough pivotal moments to make it one of the series' best. While it does hold some visual callbacks to said film, The Last Jedi held a number of distinct differences from the monumental Empire Strikes Back. While I went into the game-changing sequel expecting plenty of shock value, from revelations of Rey's parentage to the motivations behind the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (played with a vile elegance once more by actor Andy Serkis), the sequel played out less like it was simply building up to a shocking third act, and worked to explore its mostly character-driven plot as the film went on. While the film did have its revelations, some not as lasting as Empire, its premise seemed to be more focused on progressing its characters beyond what we saw in the previous chapter.

While the film's dynamic set pieces and many emotional inner workings were highlights of the sequel, I also appreciated the extent Rian Johnson went into delving into the central and supporting characters of the film. With Daisy Ridley leading the pack of newcomers to the franchise as she continued her journey as Rey, her loyal comrades in John Boyega's Finn and Oscar Isaac's Poe returned to the Star Wars universe with their own unique motivations. While Rey's quest to find Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker was meant to be the titular focus of the sequel, Rian Johnson also worked to explore where Finn and Poe's stories might go next. With Isaac's spunky pilot blasting his way through First Order fighters and knocking heads with Carrie Fisher's General Leia in the film's phenomenal opening battle, and Boyega's Finn seeking to reconnect with Rey as he dives into his own side adventure with newbie Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), The Last Jedi was, for the most part, successful in giving its young characters purpose as it progressed its central narrative.

While he retained much of his unruly teenage likeness from the previous film, Adam Driver's
Kylo Ren made for another notable performance as he worked to persuade Rey in his favor 

At the heart of that central narrative, we found Luke Skywalker, who was played with a surprising edge of sincerity and bitterness by Mark Hamill. While The Last Jedi was mostly concerned with propelling Rey through the ways of the Force in order to face the likes of Adam Driver's Kylo Ren, a great amount of the film held its focus on Hamill's legendary Jedi and his own troubles with Driver's dissuaded student. Ultimately delivering one of the most emotional performances of his time in Star Wars saga, and possibly of his entire career, Hamill was able to infuse more pain and fear into Luke Skywalker than ever before. With the film challenging not only Rey's, but Skywalker's own perception of the Force and the Jedi as well, The Last Jedi quickly became more of a conclusion to Luke's story than anything else. While I won't dive into the more pivotal consequences of Luke's journey, I will say that the film did a superb job at bringing his character full-circle in a number of exciting ways.

In the end, while The Last Jedi followed the usual narrative of the franchise by introducing a number of notable (but limited) new characters and expanding on its previous chapters with more explosive action and allusive mythology, Rian Johnson's riveting sequel did more for a Star Wars film than perhaps anyone before him. Injecting plenty of risky moves and thematic surprises to make the film an unexpected turning point for a franchise that's far from done, The Last Jedi proved to be a polarizing epic that will surely stand the test of time as one of the best Star Wars films ever made.

I gave Star Wars: The Last Jedi an 8 out of 10 for its dramatic turns that furthered its individual characters and their journeys, its stellar set pieces that brought everything from bleeding planets to futuristic casinos to vivid life, and its emotional send offs for not only Hamill's influential hero, but for Carrie Fisher's compassionate and unforgettable princess as well.               


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