If I had to describe the latest Star Wars film with just one word, it would “different.” This may rub some diehard Star Wars fans the wrong way, and I have already seen many fans reacting just as negatively to “The Last Jedi” as they did with the prequel trilogy, but at this stage in the game, I feel “The Last Jedi” is a breath of fresh air that isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and show new sides to an old story, while working to create something entirely new.
It does feel like “The Last Jedi” was made as a direct response to the criticisms of “The Force Awakens,” which audiences complained was too much like “A New Hope” and didn’t do enough to create its own identity. People were afraid that “The Last Jedi” was going to continue this trend and just be a retread of “The Empire Strikes Back,” myself included. But the latest entry in the series feels wholly unique from any other film, making the audience question the overall themes and message of the Star Wars films, while still giving us that same Star Wars goodness we’ve all come to know and love.
This is a difficult film to talk about without spoiling anything, especially since “The Last Jedi” is the first Star Wars film to come out that I didn’t know where it was going. There’s far more twists and turns that I expected, and it doesn’t take any easy outs, making this a movie that you need to see twice before you can fully appreciate it (which is a great marketing tool by Disney, ensuring that the common movie-goer will go see this film multiple times). In this case, I will say that “The Last Jedi” is a great addition to the Star Wars franchise, with a vastly different philosophy and approach, but I’d take the passionate love letter to this series, “The Force Awakens,” over this movie in the end.
Set almost directly after the events of “The Force Awakens,” the remaining members of the Resistance have now become the rebels and are on the run from the rampaging First Order, led by their Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads the last major group of rebels to find a hiding place from the First Order, holding out hope that her brother Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) will return soon to stop this war before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the newest Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke on an island on a planet no one has ever heard of, and begs Luke to return to save the rebellion and possibly train her in the ways of the force, both of which Luke has no intention of doing.
The main theme of “The Last Jedi” is one of burying the past, both literally for its characters moving on with their lives, and for the film as a whole by showing us this bold and brave new direction the trilogy is heading. I love the direction this film takes characters like Luke and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and the journeys their characters undergo, showing a far more vulnerable and imperfect side than I ever expected.
The acting is also a definite improvement over “The Force Awakens,” especially from Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. In that film, he always seemed like a whiny, petulant child with anger problems, but now Driver is able show a wide range of emotions that show him as a character going through some conflicting feelings about what is right and wrong and whether he should bury his past or embrace it. Oscar Issac is given more to do than just being the handsome flyer, and turns Poe from just an action hero into a likable yet flawed character you want to see succeed. Of course, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher pour everything into their roles to show us why we loved these characters in the first place.
The cinematography for “The Last Jedi” is a bit strange but beautiful to look at. The finale, which takes place on a salt planet, offers a color scheme that feels wholly unique, appearing like blood on snow. This gorgeous spectacle is one of the highlights of the film, embracing the imagination and creativity of Star Wars, while still feeling like its own thing. This helps to create that identity that “The Force Awakens” never truly got.
However, the film does drag at certain points. There are some scenes that go on much longer than they needed to, especially near the beginning of the second act, and most scenes with the rebels aren’t nearly as interesting as the moments with Luke and Rey on the island. For a two and a half hour runtime, this one feels much longer than it actually is thanks to its multiple climatic battles. Then again, “The Last Jedi” feels like an entire trilogy of movies told in one movie, so maybe that’s because there’s just a lot to digest.
Overall, “The Last Jedi” is a much different Star Wars experience than I ever expected. It takes the simple fairy tale like story of good versus evil and makes it far more complicated than its ever been. This film gives you a lot to think about, while still remaining Star Wars at its core. It doesn’t repeat the past like “The Force Awakens” does, but rhymes with the past in a way that feels unique. This is a movie I have to see again to fully understand, but one I don’t mind watching again.
Final Grade: B