Star Wars: The Last Jedi Reviewed
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is being called the best installment in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. That’s true. From a certain point of view.
Ever since Disney decided in 2012 to buy Lucasfilm and see if it could stage the biggest franchise revival in movie history, the goodwill of fans had helped lift their sails. At every turn, we give their films the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that they’ve never fully delivered. We’ve only had two movies make it to theaters so far from the franchise, but as the Han Solo joint wobbled badly (and may yet collapse) and Star Wars: Episode IX changed directors upstream this past summer, it started to feel like Disney’s delivery fell more in the realm of “Star Wars; Good; New: Pick Two.”
The Force Awakens, which had enough behind the scenes issues and reshoots that the “Making Of” companion piece was scrapped to hide them, landed “Star Wars” and “Good,” but as all the detractors noted, not “New.” Yes, it was remarkable to see the role of Luke Skywalker played by a woman, and the role of Han Solo cast as a Stormtrooper of Color. Moreover, if anyone had told me as late as 2014 that Han Solo would grow up to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, I’d have laughed in their faces. What an absurd statement. And yet, here we are.
Rogue One, the problems of which were so messily obvious, and the director switch at reshoots so open that fans were rightly concerned about it, managed to land two as well: “Star Wars” and “New.” But, sadly, it did not land “Good.” It was the Best Worst Movie of 2016. Huge Frankenstein-like stitches held the segments of no less than six different film together. The opening, which I dubbed The Story of Jyn; the meta-reference section, which I dubbed Better Call Saw; the Disney mandated part, which we will call Daddy Lessons; and the heart of the movie, and the one I hope to see the rest of someday, All Quiet On the Rebel Front. Spliced between were scenes from a movie version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, with a larger than life hyper-budgeted animated Tarkin, plus one random Robot Chicken segment where the real footage must have been recorded over. It was certainly a different story than anyone had tried to tell from the Galaxy Far, Far Away. But a good movie? Not on your life.
Now comes The Last Jedi, the first (and currently only) Star Wars film to be made at Disney without a peep about behind the scenes antics. Director Rian Johnson is the No Drama Obama of the Kennedy administration, and for it, he has been rewarded. Not with Episode IX, as most would have assumed, but the much larger task of creating an entire new non-Skywalker focused trilogy to begin after Episode IX is complete.
For those who are scratching their heads, because this appears to be a reward beyond what should be expected for simply managing to keep disagreements out of the trade papers, that’s because you haven’t seen the finished product.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a thrill ride from the end of the opening crawl. Moreover, while in the older movies, there was always a sense of the rebellion being a world of endless extra, here every life counts, and every loss is felt keenly. This sense of urgency only grows as the movie progresses with shades of early 2004 Battlestar Galactica in the sense of hopelessness among the Resistance at an intractable enemy who is better equipped, better funded, better manned and with more technology.
While the main fight is a slow grind of anxiety, there are two side missions being carried out. Team A is Rey’s journey to Luke Skywalker, and her push to try and get him to come back to the fight. Team B is Finn and Rose and their search for help on a world that seems to be Star Wars‘ homage to District 1 in The Hunger Games. All three of these storylines would make a perfectly serviceable A plot at the expense of the other two, and while some may complain that Rose & Finn get something of the short shrift in theirs, it’s less about their story being lesser and more because the other two are so damn stellar.
Everyone is giving their best work here. Mark Hamill may be his best Luke Skywalker ever. Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) give more heft to the story of the Force and the pull of the Dark and the Light. Carrie Fisher, as Leia is her perfectly steely self, and I left the theater crushed that she won’t be in Episode IX, and wondering how Oscar Isaacs’ character Poe might be fast-tracked along his to cover.
Laura Dern, as newcomer Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, is a particular standout. Benicio Del Toro as “DJ”, part of the Finn and Rose plot, is also a fascinating character, and I’m only sorry we don’t get more of him, but that’s not his fault. The work of John Boyega (Finn) and Kelly Ann Tran (Rose) to hold up their end of the deal is also spectacular, even if theirs is the weaker link in the chain. As for Finn’s foil, Captain Phasma, I believe Gwen Christie may have done more with a single eye than most do in a week.
And that’s all I’m going to be able to tell you, other than Go See It. And may the force be with you, always.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is open everywhere in theaters starting today.