By Staff Writer Praveen Nair
New Star Wars films are always heavily anticipated, but The Last Jedi has the blockbuster franchise’s fans more excited than ever before. With a sprawling storyline, stunning special effects, and new elements to the already beloved Star Wars lore, The Last Jedi is an instant classic, surely among the series’ best.
Much of the criticism of the previous movie, The Force Awakens, stemmed from its pervasive parallels to the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. With the new film, director Rian Johnson (best known for writing and directing the critically acclaimed 2012 thriller Looper) takes the franchise in a refreshingly new direction.
The Last Jedi spends almost no time on exposition, throwing viewers straight into the action armed only with the trademark opening crawl. To that point, those unacquainted with the saga might be utterly confused by the rapid pace.
In classic Star Wars style, Johnson spins several storylines into a cohesive narrative. While there’s always a lot going on, the viewer never feels overwhelmed or left behind. Perhaps most notable are the plot twists, another series staple; The Last Jedi does an excellent job of playing with the audience’s expectations at every development.
The breakneck speed of the plot is even more impressive given the 152-minute runtime, the longest installment of the Star Wars saga. Even the prequels, filled with lackluster drivel about trade disputes and midichlorians that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor, can’t match The Last Jedi for length. But somehow, nearly every minute of The Last Jedi’s plot is enjoyable. However, the film’s sense of humor is much more blatant than in previous movies, at times resembling a comedy; the directness of the jokes is at times confusingly contrived.
The film’s cast features some major changes from The Force Awakens. Most notably, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) finally returns in full force after receiving only a fleeting cameo in the last movie. Despite not having played the character in 33 years, Hamill shows no signs of rust. Yet the Skywalker of The Last Jedi, grizzled by years of experience, is diametrically changed from the young, energetic Jedi we saw in the original trilogy.
The Last Jedi also marks the last film appearance of Carrie Fisher before her death, playing the role of General Leia Organa. The Resistance matriarch plays a more central role than in her The Force Awakens appearance, acting as a mentor to some of the younger characters. There are many new additions to the cast, including Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern, Kelly Marie Tran, and Domhnall Gleeson. The best performances, however, are reserved for the core four characters that represent the new generation of Star Wars films.
One of the criticisms of The Force Awakens was Rey (Daisy Ridley) being skilled in the ways of the Force despite having no training. A key development in The Last Jedi is her receiving that training from a reluctant Skywalker. Rey’s search to find her place within a complicated system of light and dark provides Ridley ample time to shine. Finn (John Boyega) is now a Resistance legend, rather than a deserting Stormtrooper; Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose screen time was limited in The Force Awakens, takes on a role of leadership within the Resistance, serving at times as the film’s most captivating hero.
Though many of the characters are believable and genuine, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) steals this show. Star Wars’ villains have never been very nuanced, an unfortunate symptom of the clear good versus evil motif. But Kylo Ren is a tortured soul, an enigma of rage, guilt, and fear, and Driver portrays this conflict perfectly. Driver’s Kylo Ren is perhaps the most human character that Star Wars has ever produced, constantly leaving the audience in suspense about what he will do next.
For all the excitement and nuance in the plot, The Last Jedi shines brightest in the technical department. The computer animation is among the most advanced in film today, allowing massive space battles on a scale never seen before in the series (in addition to new alien creatures such as the unsettlingly cute Porgs). The environments are shockingly beautiful, from Luke’s chosen island of exile (shot on Skellig Michael off the coast of Ireland) to the salt planet near the end of the movie.
John Williams’ score, always a high point of the Star Wars films, adds new elements to the familiar reprises of each character’s theme, leading to a seamless integration between the music and the scenes on the screen. The lightsaber fight scenes in The Last Jedi are a far cry from the slow, awkward, and methodical battles of the original trilogy; they combine acrobatics, speed, and agility in ways Darth Vader could only dream of.
In this latest installment, Director Rian Johnson has created, without a doubt, the best Star Wars film since The Empire Strikes Back. Adding thematic complexity and technical perfection to an already-successful formula, The Last Jedi easily exceeds its astronomical expectations.
Photo courtesy Lucasfilm Ltd.