Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 2017.
Written and Directed by Rian Johnson.
Starring Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, Benicio del Toro, Billie Lourd, Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o, Jimmy Vee, Tim Rose, Warwick Davis, Hermione Corfield and Veronica Ngo.
Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.
No one can say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a previous entry in a different skin (the most commonly agreed-upon complaint with Star Wars: The Force Awakens was its lack of originality, opting to ape beat for beat the plot of A New Hope), as writer and director Rian Johnson (the sci-fi brainiac behind the greatness that is Looper) has crafted an installment that largely defies saga standard narrative structure and tone. There is a quick comedic dialogue exchange in the beginning between Oscar Isaac’s fighter pilot Poe Dameron and Domhnall Gleeson’s First Order General Hux that falls in line with the brand of humor Disney and Marvel inject into that particular cinematic universe; it’s a moment that feels like a tone-setter, but jokes never really return outside of a few throwaway one-liners completely free from danger. This is more palatable to last year’s spinoff prequel Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, evoking the cost of war with gloom, endless struggle, tragic deaths, and hopelessness searching for a rebellious spark.
It’s also quite literally a war in the stars, as the Resistance is trapped in the crosshairs of Supreme Leader Snoke’s cannons and laser ships where retreating is not an option considering the tyrannical forces now have a method of tracking movements through lightspeed. Technically, the Resistance could flee, although it would be all for naught as they are quickly running out of fuel and unable to fully escape conflict. The situation puts all of their high-ranking leaders including General Leia (Carrie Fisher once again bringing grace, wisdom, and strategical qualities) in a tough predicament regarding how to move forward, as it all comes down to Rey and whether or not she can convince Luke to join the fight.
What this means is that roughly 40% of The Last Jedi takes place in deep space while another 40% deals with Rey on an island uncovering truths and secrets about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren. The remaining 20% is made up of two different locales, one of which is entirely superfluous to the story. Essentially, there is a subplot that introduces Benicio del Toro’s mysterious work of eccentricity, except it doesn’t really do much of interest with him. Admittedly, it feels as if the character could be destined for bigger things in the final chapter, but I can only go off of what I watched, and well, the middle portion of The Last Jedi is stuck in the furthest setting from lightspeed. The journey expands to a space-Vegas full of various alien life forms and inhabitants, but it’s not as visually striking as previously explored planets. Additionally, by design, there seems to be filler injected simply because the other characters need things to do while Rey accomplishes what she needs to with Luke.
On that note, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren continues to be a standout performer and character in the new trilogy, harnessing his unstable inner good vs evil demons to bring forth a ferociously unhinged personality. Darth Vader was certainly evil, but also understood his goals and purpose with a collected calm; Kylo is unpredictable and doesn’t become easier to read as more details emerge, making him all the more terrifying. Intriguingly, the film successfully adds complexities to the relationship between Luke and Kylo that doesn’t betray Star Wars lore. Up until now, Star Wars heroes and villains generally align on a fairly clear-cut morality spectrum, which is something Rian Johnson shoots into a vacuum. Parts of Kylo are actually sympathetic, and that’s not an easy feat to accomplish factoring in his recent actions.
Of course, Luke plays a much larger role this time (for starters, he actually has dialogue and a bunch of key scenes) ranging from shaping Rey’s future to coming to terms with past events. It also helps that Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley share strong chemistry, so much that it would be highly enjoyable to watch a film consisting of just them discussing important themes, history, and how to deal with the war. Johnson also goes out of his way to amusingly answer some fans’ burning questions such as “What has Luke been eating and drinking to survive on the island”, with the answer conjuring up an immediate “Forget I was ever curious”. Rest assured, Luke does get more material than cracking jokes; he and Rey’s argumentative interactions is the backbone of the experience.
If there’s any character that gets the short end of the stick as far as development goes, it’s Supreme Leader Snoke. Andy Serkis does a phenomenal job with the motion capture, imbuing the malevolent being with an intimidating voice and lifelike expressions, but there is disappointment all around with how he’s implemented. There are other returning characters such as Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma that once again feel pointless, but at least she’s not a major character worth getting worked up over. Crowded supporting players aside, the script does do a serviceable job at maturing Poe from an impulsive and reckless fighter, along with giving John Boyega’s Finn a love interest played by escape pod mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran).
All of these elements come together to create a middle chapter with hefty stakes and dramatic consequences. Visually and sonically, the film is stunning with the grandiose space battles rendered a dazzling sight to behold as the cinematography swirls in circular rotations and tracks aircraft through the thick of peril. If you have the opportunity, absolutely see it in Dolby Cinema as every single piece of destruction and explosion sticks out with crystal clarity, as does the entire ending sequence built on epic confrontations.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is another outstanding entry in the new trilogy, one that doesn’t distinctly feel like Star Wars but not necessarily a Rian Johnson film either. Pacing issues and onslaught of characters aside, there is a lot to marvel here leaving a whole lot left to get excited about. Even the few plot points that feel telegraphed are delivered in ways that subvert expectations. When The Last Jedi has seemingly reached its conclusion, it refuses to end, continuing bracing forward full throttle into one last hurrah of grand scale theatrics, and in that moment you’ll never want it to finish as the heart-sinking realization of being impossibly forced to wait two more years for Episode IX settles in.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com