Sometimes, your hopes are wrapped around one character to carry out the legacy of a beloved series. If you pick a familiar face, the fellow with a charismatic smile or a star, you are bound to be confused and may leave the theater disappointed. If you pick to follow a pipe maintenance worker, then you will appreciate the eighth episode in the “Star Wars” saga.
“The Last Jedi” begins where 2015’s “The Forces Awakens” ends, with the rebel-led Resistance evacuating its home base as the ruling First Order is about unleash hellfire. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) loads all the essential personnel and cargo onto a large space cruiser on route to an ally planet, but somehow Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his army are tracking them. With little fuel and hope, the Resistance is at war with itself as far as what to do. Former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) hatches one plan with hot-headed ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) that they believe will get the First Order off their trail. At the same time, there’s a political shakeup on board with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) taking charge.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is off on a secluded island reuniting OG Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) with his light saber and trying to connect with The Force that resides within her. Along the way, Rey’s training is interrupted with Force-induced conversations with archrival Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) about the Dark Side and other Jedi-type matters.
Much of “The Last Jedi” is spent with what Finn, Rey and Kylo learned about themselves from what happened in the seventh episode, and things are less clean cut than Star Wars fans would expect from the previous films. That’s thanks to director/writer Rian Johnson’s take on the fantasy canon. What J.J. Abrams did with “The Force Awakens” was make a fanboy’s dream for a new generation, but Johnson made it darker and unexpected. The audience sees Rey shift from wanting to restore hope to the Resistance to going whatever path it took, even if it included the Dark Side, to fulfill her selfish needs. Even Luke has his weaknesses and secrets that require him to put himself first. Rey’s connection with Kylo is intense, particularly in the quiet moments when each thinks they can unlock what makes the other tick. Will they become allies or stay as enemies? These mental battles are more pleasing than most of the action sequences in this bloated 2½-hour fantasy.
But if there is a character that keeps what remaining grain of George Lucas’ vision, that would be newbie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a Resistance maintenance worker who pairs up with Finn on that Finn/Poe side mission. Despite suffering much loss and seeing deserters try to flee, Rose still believes in the Resistance’s purpose and sees beyond the surface. Like Rey and Finn, Rose rises from the gutter and becomes a hero. If there was a Dark Side copy of her, that would be General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), whose rival with Kylo is still strong but is more of a joke than anything.
What makes “The Last Jedi” more realistic is that it is more human. There are fewer makeup/costume- heavy characters and alien lifeforms, expect for Luke’s island planet of adorable creatures. This puts more of the characters’ thoughts and emotions to the forefront instead of their outer foreignness. Plus, in a genre where people of color are either excluded or buried under costumes and computer-generated imagery, there is more representative that will reach a wider audience, from Boyega and Isaac to Tran and Benicio del Toro as DJ, a mysterious hacker that helps Finn and Rose on their side mission, but his alliance is in question.
As for the action, watching the Resistance ship being tailed by Snoke’s grand ship is a big bore. There were times in which Holdo could do a singing impression of Kathie Lee Gifford in a Carnival Cruise Lines commercial and it would be more entertaining. It felt like watching a cruise liner in the middle of the ocean, and wondering when the passengers would break into a conga line.
What makes “The Last Jedi” most troubling is that it’s the middle part of a trilogy, and if it follows typical trilogy logic, the next and final part will be awful. There are several loose ends with this episode, and with Abrams returning to the helm, will the war end with sides being chosen or will the internal conflicts still exist?
Three and a half stars out of five.
Much like its main characters, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” wavers between the light and dark sides of the Force. The eighth chapter of the beloved space saga and the second in a new trilogy boasts spectacular visuals, great performances and jaw-dropping moments, including some that will make fans want to stand up and cheer. But the film’s ambition to break out of the traditional “Star Wars” mold is hurt by its structural and storytelling issues.
“The Last Jedi” picks up where 2015’s “The Force Awakens” left off. After destroying the First Order’s weapon of planetary destruction, Starkiller Base, the Resistance is targeted by a regrouped First Order and left in disarray. A change in leadership causes a power struggle that pits members of the Resistance against each other. With the First Order hot on their trail, hotshot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) sends Stormtrooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega) with aircraft mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) on a special mission to aid the Resistance.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley), an up-and-coming Jedi of mysterious origin, finds legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in isolation. But the grizzled, weary Luke is not interested in helping the Resistance. While he reluctantly trains Rey, she is communicating through the Force with her nemesis Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). As the two grow closer, which side will each choose: the light or the dark?
In “The Force Awakens,” director J.J. Abrams charted a thrilling and comfortable return to the “Star Wars” universe after the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Under the reins of director Rian Johnson, the darker “The Last Jedi” plots a new course for the franchise, with mixed results.
“The Last Jedi” has some of the best visuals and special effects in the franchise. Its expands upon how the Force can be used, seizing upon its mystical nature and how far it can affect the physical world. The space action is stunning, with aerial dogfights between X-wings and TIE-fighters, blaster showdowns, and imperial walkers, cannons and of course, lightsabers. There’s an exciting and exquisite lightsaber battle that will leave you breathless.
With a mix of fan favorites and new characters, “The Last Jedi” inspires excellent performances from its cast and brings together heart-warming reunions.
Thirty-four years after he last stepped into the role in “Return of the Jedi,” Hamill masterfully returns to the robes of Luke Skywalker. As a hardened Luke, Hamill plays a much different version of the iconic hero, reaching emotional places we’ve never seen the character go onscreen. Hamill and Ridley play off each other very well as Luke’s pessimism encounters Rey’s optimism.
Ridley and Driver do a great job of mining the conflict within their characters. Ridley taps into Rey’s yearning to learn the Force just as much as she wants to know the truth about her identity. Driver reveals the inner turmoil swirling inside Kylo Ren, who wants to be the next Darth Vader but can’t quite stop being Ben Solo, the son of Princess Leia and Han Solo. In her final movie role, Carrie Fisher shines as the tough-as-nails General Leia.
While “The Force Awakens” echoed the story beats of 1977’s “A New Hope,” “The Last Jedi” includes elements from 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back” and 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” But Johnson takes the tropes Star Wars fans have come to expect from the franchise and subverts them. This allows the film to go in unexpected directions as it finds new ways to tell the story of the Skywalker saga. But as a result, the character and plot decisions in “The Last Jedi” don’t always make sense, and the bold risks that Johnson takes don’t always pay off.
From a structural standpoint, “The Last Jedi” feels disjointed. The Finn-Rose storyline is far less interesting than the Rey-Luke-Kylo Ren storyline. Their mission, including their journey to the casino planet of Canto Bight, hurts the movie’s pacing and really drags down the plot. Boyega and Tran are fine in their roles, but the relationship between Finn and Rose feels forced.
“The Last Jedi” doesn’t do a good job of integrating most of its new characters into the story. While the film fleshes out Poe, who had little screen time in “The Force Awakens,” his character development comes at the expense of getting to know Resistance official Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), who has a key role to play. The awkward hacker DJ (Benicio del Toro) serves as a discount Lando Calrissian whose loyalties are always in question.
The biggest problem with “The Last Jedi” is that it doesn’t follow through on the story threads and questions set up in “The Force Awakens.” Though “The Last Jedi” takes place directly after “The Force Awakens,” it doesn’t connect smoothly to its predecessor. The disparity between Abrams’ and Johnson’s visions is troubling because it indicates there might not have been a plan in place for how this trilogy is supposed to turn out.
“The Last Jedi” struggles to find a balance between its highs and lows. However, as it attempts to marry the past and future of the franchise, the film is certainly worth seeing. Perhaps the impact of “The Last Jedi” will be better understood once “Episode IX” comes out in 2019 and wraps up the trilogy.
3 out of 5 stars