Released December 15, 2017
Rated PG-13 (Sci-Fi Action, Violence, Brief Language)
2 hr. 32 min.
Directed and Written by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper)
Cinematography by Steve Yedlin (Brick, Looper)
Music by John Williams (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark)
Edited by Bob Ducsay (Catch Me If You Can, Godzilla)
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy (Lincoln, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Ram Bergman (Brick, Don Jon)
Starring Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Murder on the Orient Express), Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm), Carrie Fisher (Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Paterson), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Planet of the Apes trilogy), John Boyega (Attack the Block, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Kelly Marie Tran (Ladies Like Us, CollegeHumor Originals), Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina), Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, The Revenant), Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, The Founder), and Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, Sicario)
I want to keep this review spoiler-free while discussing as much as I can, so I’m going to forgo a synopsis. I’ll just say this: The Last Jedi has many surprises in store for both its characters and its audience, and the characters still inhabit a world that is fully realized, lived-in, and rich with history, in a movie that both embraces and furthers the magic and the mystery of that world.
Two Christmases ago, Star Wars: The Force Awakens hit theaters and revived the Star Wars franchise, which had not been killed but had been severely tainted, even wounded, by George Lucas’s trashing of his own legacy with the Prequel Trilogy. With the sequel to The Force Awakens in theaters, I wondered how this new installment would turn out. Would it continue the fun and competent yet overly nostalgia-obsessed nature of The Force Awakens and Rogue One? Or would it rest comfortably as its own thing, while still forwarding this franchise?
Thankfully, it’s the latter. The Force Awakens was what it needed to be, had to remind people of why Star Wars is great and wash away the Prequels’ bitter aftertaste. Rogue One was an enjoyably diverting little thing. The Last Jedi needed to be something new, something unique. And it is. It does contain nods to past adventures, and those work. Yet the best things about The Last Jedi are the new directions in which Johnson has guided this lumbering ship. Empire Strikes Back rip-off this is not.
In fact, this movie is different enough from The Force Awakens and Rogue One, or any other Star Wars film, that many Star Wars fans have been lashing back hard at this installment. If the last two flicks are comfort food, The Last Jedi is a slightly more challenging dish that may take some getting used to. It’s a deconstruction, exploration, and deepening of the Star Wars mythology without contradicting what has happened previously. There’s a thematic depth here I wasn’t expecting and some nuance. It’s brave and bold where most blockbusters aren’t.
The Last Jedi has Rian Johnson’s prints all over it, which pleases me. As with Taika Waititi and Thor: Ragnarok earlier this year, I was more interested in seeing Johnson’s take on a Star Wars movie than anything else. If you’ve seen Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, or Johnson’s work on Breaking Bad, you’ll see Johnson’s take is, for the most part, what we got here. It’s in the camera, the pacing, the story, the characterizations, the character interactions, and the unexpected humor. Where the last two flicks felt more or less like the products of a big machine – though a fine one, oiled and running smoothly – The Last Jedi feels like a director’s vision, even if one using the foundation and products of that machine. Did Lucasfilm truly hand over this episode’s reins to a single man? Well, the credits do list Johnson as the sole writing credit.
Much in line with George Lucas’s original vision, Johnson peppers his film with visual and thematic references to the sweeping, character-driven Westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks; the glorious samurai films of Akira Kurosawa; martial arts flicks; epic sword-and-sandal ventures; and old naval war movies; even so, Johnson does this without losing a playful, pulpy sense of thrilling adventure. It effectively washes its hands of the Prequels and moves past the Original Trilogy to offer us something new.
The acting is really good. Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, and the rest are all very solid, as are franchise newcomers Laura Dern, despite her ridiculous, bad-Star Trek getup; the charming Kelly Marie Tran; and Benicio Del Toro, though Del Toro is using a movie stutter, which I disdain. Adam Driver brings even more passion and fire to this episode than the last. Andy Serkis gets to shine in yet another motion-capture role. And though it is sad to see Carrie Fisher in her final appearance, she’s wonderful. However, the most remarkable acting job, to me, is Mark Hamill as Luke. I feared he would not work well, as he’s not an amazing live-action actor, but he’s decent here. I don’t think many will argue this is Hamill’s most compelling live-action performance.
Everyone else working on this movie has done an excellent job, as well. The cinematography and lighting are incredible. The editing is good, even if it makes some strange choices, and I do wish they had cut some of the structurally sagging, overlong midsection of the movie, especially some of those parts with Finn and Rose that feel like a nearly separate story. The art designs are often breathtaking. The CGI is exceptional in every way – always a Star Wars constant. In regard to design and special effects, Johnson and those working with him paid exceptional attention to detail. John Williams’s score is great, better than his work on Force Awakens. And the action is, in a few instances, some of the best and most satisfying in Star Wars history. This is perhaps the most gorgeous of all the Star Wars films.
How are the story and characters? I won’t spoil anything, but I love the directions many characters and plots take here, especially those of Luke, a bit like Yoda; Kylo, full of inner struggle; Rey, coming into her own but not without mistakes; and Poe, whose arc subverts that of the usual movie hot-headed flyboy. There are exceptions, like Finn’s subplot being unnecessary and the addition of two or three rather useless characters – Rose, DJ, and, maybe, Vice Admiral Holdo. Yet the rest of the characters and plot points more than make up for these issues. The story takes its time in places then amps up in others at a good pace, and I actually cared about what happened to these characters. I’m excited to see where they go in the future.
Johnson took risks and did things with these characters that stretch them. It may not have paid off one-hundred percent of the time (Finn’s subplot and Rose’s decisions, for example), but in so much that Johnson gave us some interesting character examinations and even subversively challenged past foundations, it does pay off. Plus, there’s a sense of humor and a measured amount of self-awareness, updated some, that we haven’t seen since the Original Trilogy, both the Original Trilogy and these movies having their roots deeply planted in the same Flash Gordon-style action-adventure serials of the ’30s and ’40s. We also get a lot of balance, with wildly different characters being paired up, balancing each other out.
As an aside, I know a lot of people are upset about what Johnson has done with Luke, but it makes complete sense to me, going back to his development in the Original Trilogy. Also, part of this and others’ developments is part of the movie’s commendable highlighting of the Average Joes of this universe. As for many of the other story/character complaints I’ve heard, let’s all remember this is the second part of a trilogy, like Empire itself, or Lord of the Rings’ Two Towers. Anyway, perhaps I’m all right with so much of these things because I enjoyed how The Last Jedi‘s explores, in a Star Wars way, some ideas and consequences I found interesting and confronts problems I’ve had with the Jedi of the Prequels and certain elements of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, doing so in a way that I’ve actually been wanting to see but never thought I would. Instead of treating what’s come before as a sacred text, The Last Jedi almost acts as an extending new iteration, like the Bond films have always done.
As for negatives other than those already mentioned, the tone does shift back and forth in a jarring fashion, and the multiple plot threads crisscross and intersect in occasionally clashing and messy ways, though they come together in the end. Some of the new creatures are overly cutesy. The dialogue is awkward here and there, though not any more so than in the Original Trilogy. Moments of cheese appear at points, though those moments are far outweighed by jaw-droppingly fantastic ones. And there is one comedic bit at the beginning of the movie where the humor didn’t land for me.
The Last Jedi is a kick in the pants, which is exactly what Star Wars needs right now. That may be uncomfortable for some fans who were already settled in, but that’s good. Many of the ways The Last Jedi goes about this are the kinds of things needed for this franchise to progress beyond simple fan service.
I’m going to give Star Wars: The Last Jedi an 87%.
It’s a joy to watch and a lot of fun.
After thinking about it and watching this movie again, I’ve decided: The Last Jedi, for me, is the best Star Wars episode since Return of the Jedi. I’ll even go so far as to say The Last Jedi is a better-directed film than Return, but Return will always be the more iconic installment in my mind.
For anyone looking at all the divisiveness among fans when it comes to Episode VIII, I recommend you do some research into fan responses to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi when those films were first released. Though fans at that time didn’t have the Internet to engage with as many people as fans today, the overall immediate response was similar. And, of course, the response is similar, though overall much less negative than, the responses to the Prequels.
Sound off with your opinions in the comment section below. If nothing else, at least The Last Jedi has got fans talking.