I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens. It was a fun and exciting revitalization of the Star Wars franchise that brought interesting new characters along with some solid nostalgia. But J.J. Abrams’ Episode VII did have one predominant flaw in that it was far too much like the original Star Wars film. But fear not die-hard and casual Star Wars fans, new director Rian Johnson (Looper, The Brothers Bloom) brings a follow up that is unique and full of some of the series’ biggest narrative risks.
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi picks up right where its predecessor left off. The resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), hotheaded pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and enemy defector Finn (John Boyega) continues in its struggle to overthrow the oppressive First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Leia’s own son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Meanwhile, newly force sensitive Rey (Daisy Ridley) encounters Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote planet in hopes that she can be trained as a Jedi knight and convince Skywalker to end his self appointed exile and aid the resistance.
As mentioned earlier, The Last Jedi succeeds in taking chances with the directions of its characters and presenting a narrative that is nothing like any Star Wars film before. The intense and emotional action keeps things constantly entertaining and provides several jaw dropping sequences sure to make fans of the genre giddy. The climax, which features gorgeous imagery and a few notable duels, is an absolute marvel. The movie also manages to answer most of the questions raised by The Force Awakens, making the non action heavy sequences feel just as suspenseful.
But alas, The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws. Star Wars is already bursting with characters and yet the filmmakers felt the need to add several more. Many of the new characters, like Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose Tico are superfluous, albeit interesting, additions, but others like Benicio Del Toro’s eccentric hacker, ‘DJ’, feel almost completely unnecessary. The host of new faces often makes characters like Boyega’s Finn feel less important to the overarching plot. The movie also drags on a bit too long, clocking in at a very noticeable two and a half hours with a few scenes, particularly in the middle, feeling like they could’ve been drastically shortened or completely left out.
The special effects also feel like a bit of a downgrade with many of the practical effects gone with J.J. Abrams and replaced with heavy CGI. Not to say that the film doesn’t still have some grand sets and wonderful costumes, but many sequences reminded me of the clunky, intangible visuals of the prequels. Much of the humor in the film is also marginally successful with many gimmicks and quips feeling a bit out of place for a Star Wars movie.
But despite its nitpicks, The Last Jedi is one of the best Star Wars films to date, because there are simply too many things to love about it. The revealed secrets and character development of Rey and Kylo Ren are intensely captivating. The chemistry between Leia and Poe Dameron feels as genuine as a mother and son. And if The Force Awakens belonged to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, The Last Jedi absolutely belongs to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker making his brief appearance in the previous installment worth the wait. The iconic jedi’s bold arc is the bedrock of the film, and Hamill’s sensational performance lays the groundwork for this undeniably unforgettable sci-fi adventure.
FINAL GRADE: B