I can respectfully confirm that Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is not another “ooh” and “ahh” spectacle like The Force Awakens (though I loved it). As a huge fan of the series since I was four years old, this latest installment made me truly fall in love with this new trilogy, blending new and old characters in fine fashion, as well as entertaining the hell out of basic fans of Star Wars. At certain parts, The Last Jedi will make you groan, for better or worse. At many other points, the film will make you laugh, cheer, cry, and be on the edge of your seat. Is it the best of the series? Absolutely not. Is it the Empire Strikes Back of this trilogy? Currently, yes, it is.
The biggest fear of mine going into the movie was the nostalgic feeling still present in this series. Disney likes to play things safe, so my fears were justified. While there are points in the narrative that do feel like the episode that came before, they do it better than that episode. Here, the series makes the audience realize how dangerous and threatening the First Order are. During a great majority of the film, I felt the overwhelming power of evil the First Order possessed, which leads to one of a handful of strengths the film has. The film reminds us that the Resistance, just like any force of justice, is vulnerable. Not everyone in the galaxy is safe, which is felt throughout the film. Narratively, it feels smart, as evil gives the good no other options. The story flows between characters and their arcs nicely, making sure that when characters do hit new points in their stories, it’s rewarding for the audience. Smart choices are made by the writers.
Whether we are following Rey’s arc with Luke, the plans of the Resistance, or the excitement of Poe and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), I was fully invested. Rey and Luke are the highlight of the film, putting two huge fan favorites together at last. The drama, tension, and wisdom of the two of them work well. With Rey, the emotional attachment that many have with her only grows stronger. She’s a person who is chosen for greatness, yet she is terrified of where it will take her. Some of the situations thrown at her to tempt her toward the Dark Side feel like actual threats. The tests make her grow as a character. There are many aspects to her. She is still the character we all love, but with evil that she wants to grasp. She is tempted so often by the answers she’s always wanted, yet she fights it off. The relationship she grows with Luke is slightly out of place. Her training, while it hits the marks for the most part, at times feels a bit rushed when it comes to character development. I’d like to see more of Luke being the flawed teacher that he is. He’s not the perfect Jedi we all know, and I love that. It’s only brought up for a bit, and I wish we saw more of that than the scenes on the Resistance ship of Poe and the Resistance. I enjoyed the way Luke approached the training, showing that he is not the perfect teacher we all thought he was.
Finn’s adventure is shared largely with two new characters, Rose and DJ (Benicio Del Toro). DJ is mostly forgettable, a bumbling dork only used to move the narrative. Rose, however, is a fun character. I found her performance cute, and her character’s history serves a good aid to the narrative. The reasoning behind her actions is justified, not being just for the greater good. She and Finn feel so good together, just as Finn and Rey did in the last episode. Finn and Rose’s arc is very entertaining to watch, as it shows off both a good new locale and offers us another great action scene on a visually pleasing planet. Finn, for a lot of the movie, feels very similar to Poe. Both characters are still running to what they think is for the greater good, no matter the cost. We are still cheering for them throughout whatever action they are throwing themselves into. These actions don’t feel stupid, and they sometimes leave us questioning what they are doing. A few moments made me think Poe was wrong, but I understood his actions because they also felt right. There’s a good amount of tension there, leaving the audience questioning where their allegiance will stay. Series favorites, like Chewie, C-3P0, R2-D2, and others are here, though they take a step back to make sure these new characters shine. This is their trilogy now. Johnson makes good use of the old and the new.
While the good guys are all well and good, it’s the Dark Side that takes a hit when it comes to its characters. Kylo feels like the Vader we saw in Return of the Jedi. He is questioning his alliance to Snoke, leaving the impression upon viewers during most of the film that he truly will turn to the Light Side. Even though he killed my favorite character in the whole saga in Episode VII, I still feel a lot of his distress on his behalf. He still struggles to find his identity, making him a villain who seems not to know his place in this galaxy far, far away. Adam Driver’s performance is still top notch in this episode. His connection with Rey affects her training with Luke in a good way, though sometimes it feels a bit much. General Hux has a very entertaining role, sometimes leading to funny bits. All I will say about Snoke and Phasma is that they are disappointing, though one does have a nice revelation.
I wish I could say that The Last Jedi learned from The Force Awakens in every way. It still has some flaws to it that don’t necessarily take away from the experience, but will certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of some fans. For starters, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and DJ are very forgettable. They only serve one purpose in the film, leaving no memorable moments to remember them by. It’s a shame, because I enjoy both of these performers. Dern’s character especially serves a very standard purpose, and her arc is so familiar that I could not care for her. Similarly, DJ is known for his quirky behavior and that’s about it. He is only there for one purpose, instead of offering a great new character. He’s not a Lando, who also served one purpose, but one that was important, leading to a memorable character which would be remembered for years. Holdo and DJ will slip through the memories of Star Wars fans quickly. Even though Finn’s portion of the film is fun, I do feel like there was a missed opportunity with his character. His actions for Rey and the Resistance feel like what he would do, but his character doesn’t amount to much. That said he is still a fun character in the end.
I did mention that this film doesn’t rely on what has come before, but there is a big part of the film that will feel like a previous episode. It feels like an improvement, but it doesn’t leave a huge impact on this critic. It also leads to another downfall of the movie, which I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers. The last bit of criticism I will mention is brief, and I will do my best not to spoil anything. As we all know, this film is going to be hard to watch for fans, as we must say goodbye to our Princess. Carrie Fisher is a great presence in the film. One moment, however, left me with mixed emotions. In canon, this moment totally can happen. Watching the film, though, many people around me were scratching their heads, some chuckling. Now, I want to know when that decision was made: was it before or after Fisher’s death? Only time will tell, as I’m sure Johnson and company will speak about it after the world has seen the movie.
I love The Last Jedi. I was still cheering throughout the film when big steps are made, and my connection with fans in the audience only grew throughout. There are missteps in the film, but they are nowhere near as glaring as they are in Rogue One. The Last Jedi still finds the fun, humor, drama, adventure, and threats that made me fall in love with this series at a young age. As we go forward, we are all hoping that these future adventures can still come through with entertaining stories. Rian Johnson, who is now making the next trilogy, has made sure we can have solid faith in him. I truly believe he has delivered an adventure on par with The Force Awakens. I want to go back to the theater and feel the threat of evil again. I want to see these characters progress over and over again. The action scenes look fantastic, and the cinematography is excellent. The film is not perfect. There are moments that will make you moan and groan. There’s one in particular I totally called, yet I was sort of OK with (you know which one I am talking about, if you have seen the film). The Last Jedi is another fine adventure, worthy of inspiring young viewers to imagine their own worlds and stories, just like I did all those years ago, and continue to do today.
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
dir. Rian Johnson
Now playing pretty much literally everywhere (though the Hassle suggests the Capitol or your local independently run cinema)