Review: The Last Jedi (Spoilers)
The eighth film in the Star Wars franchise, The Last Jedi, bravely directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick), is a powerful story that is tragic, touching, and sometimes poetic. It follows in the tradition started by The Empire Strikes Back in weaving two major storylines together and connecting them in the final act. And much like that iconic sequel, one plot focuses on the Force and the other on a dire chase between the Empire/First Order and the supporting characters, in this case, what’s left of the entire rebellion.
Johnson depicts the Resistance at being on death’s doorsteps. Having developed a new way to track ships through lightspeed travel, the First Order has the Resistance, now back to being called “Rebels,” on a death crawl. If they make the jump to lightspeed, the enemy will most certainly follow and they will no longer have the power to run their shields, the only thing keeping them alive. This leaves our heroes in a difficult situation as they struggle to survive with limited pilots and resources, both of which are depleting by the minute. As Vader once said, “We’ll soon see the end of the Rebellion.”
This is genuinely something we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie, a Rebel Alliance that can’t fight back. This is an ideal situation for a movie, as the critical direness brings out both the best and worst in our heroes, the light side and dark side of humanity, imperfect, but very much human. Oscar Isaacs’ Poe Dameron is the face of the subordinate fighters, a man who probably believes every day is the day they can take down the First Order. Hot-headed and rash, his decisions are hasty and rely purely on hope, often failing and making things worse.
Princess Leia is played with dignity and elegance by Carrie Fisher in what is not only her swan song, but is her best outing as the character since The Empire Strikes Back. Leia has devoted nearly her entire life to the fight and by this point, she is simply trying to keep her troops alive to fight back harder another day. Fisher retains her signature sass in the role, being both a strong female character and a noble leader. Her presence will sorely be missed in Episode IX.
At the heart of the film are two new characters. The first is Rose, played Kelly Marie Tran. She’s spunky, got a lot of heart, and has a moment with Finn, played by John Boyega, that absolutely brought a tear to my eye. The other is Vice Admiral Holdo, played by Laura Dern. Holdo isn’t the Rebel Leader to whom we’re accustomed. With bright purple hair and a striking appearance right out of The Hunger Games, she seems like royalty. But there’s more to her than meets the eye and she has hands-down the most beautifully poetic moment in the film, when she uses the very thing that’s been holding them back against the First Order. I can’t even begin to describe to you how excited I was to see this moment play out. On the outside, I had a calm smirk, but my mind was jumping up and down, shouting “Do it! Do it!” This is why I love movies.
In another part of the galaxy, universe, what have you, Rey’s journey picks up right where we left off. Played with both determination and confusion by Daisy Ridley, Rey is trying to get her bearings with the Force, something she knows almost nothing about. In this way, the film is about the arduous path young people take to find their place in the world, as Rey finds herself hitting a fork in the road, one way pointing to the Light Side of the Force and the another straight to the Dark Side. This is depicted through long-distant conversations Rey has with Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, who sometimes looks like a prince, handsome and youthfully dopey. (Sometimes, his appearance even brings to mind Keanu Reeves in Bill & Ted.) But there’s a burning hatred growing inside and when unleashed, he’s ugly and demonic. This is the Anakin Skywalker we should’ve seen ten years ago. To a degree, both characters are at a crossroad, trying to pull each other to their side of the Force, while somewhat relating to their turmoil, maybe even connecting romantically. These scenes are dangerous, provocative, a little seductive, and very much fresh to the series.
Now let’s talk about Luke Skywalker. He was someone we could relate to, a surrogate character for whom we lived vicariously through and thus viscerally connected to the material. Together, we fought in amazing space battles, struggled to learn the Force, learned shocking truths, and defeated the Empire. And now he’s standing before us again, holding his father’s lightsaber, and what does he do? He chucks it.
Many have said this is not their Luke, but I‘m not sure if I flat-out disagree or if I’m just far too invested in the story to be bothered by it. To be fair, it’s a little unreal to expect a person to be exactly the same as they were 34 years ago, but I digress. The Luke we know and love is still there, but both time and the cataclysm from the decisions he’s made have not been kind to him. He’s a legendary hero who’s fallen from grace and is now reclusive, cynical, and grumpy, but with a smirk nonetheless. Mark Hamill returns to the part, but brings his trademark playful charm, which adds levity to the role, despite his backstory going to some rather dark, but compelling places. Naturally, this fall also lends to a rise in the finale that is very much rooted in the nature of the Force (per Yoda’s teachings, “Its energy surrounds us and binds us”).
The Last Jedi is the Star Wars film I didn’t know I wanted. It’s brave, risky, takes us to new places, and thus, it’s a very divisive film. It’s not perfect. There are a couple odd moments in the film, but ultimately, when a film’s biggest crime is not the quality of the filmmaking and storytelling, but that it didn’t fit in the box people lumped it into, how can I possibly hold that against a film, much less kick it down to a zero star rating and inspire me to write hate mail to Disney? The few reservations I did have, particularly a moment with Leia, weren’t enough to impact the powerful nature of this film and the visceral grip it had on me. It was simply and purely a meaningful experience. I hope you enjoyed the film as much as I did and if you didn’t, I hope you try it again down the road. May the Force be with you!