Film Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

With Rian Johnson, the keys to the 'Star Wars' franchise are in the right hands.
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When Disney announced its purchase of Lucasfilm, there were some concerns in fan corners—this fan among them—that the franchise from a galaxy far, far away would suffer homogenization at the hands of the Mouse House. They’ve done it with the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the years, after all, and reports of existing characters like Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi getting prequel spinoffs isn’t exactly indicative of a commitment to originality. J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, for all it was an excellent start to a new Star Wars trilogy, was essentially a soft remake of A New Hope, with a new trio of adventurers standing in for Luke, Leia and Han. Some sparks of risk-taking showed in Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One, which abandoned the traditional space-opera formula in lieu of a war movie populated mostly by previously unknown characters.

With The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson mixes up the formula even more, to wonderful effect. Official apologies are extended to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.

On the surface, The Last Jedi is par for the Star Wars course. As with 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, we start with a group of scrappy rebels—led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) with the support of protégé Poe (a dashing Oscar Isaac)—staring down the barrel of imminent destruction. There are space battles and splashy, eye-catching locations, like the Jedi island temple of Ahch-To and the one-percenter casino planet Canto Bight. If some of these detours drag on a bit, hampering momentum and bulking up The Last Jedi’s not-entirely-necessary two-hour-and 32-minute runtime, well, at least the various locales are fun to look at. It’s Star Wars. They always are.

Old favorites are present, notably Leia and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who’s gone from a wide-eyed farm boy to a grizzled cynic. In an unexpected but thoroughly welcome move, Hamill gets to show off his comedy chops in a way the original trilogy never really let him. Domhnall Gleeson, in a small but delightful role, does his best Peter Cushing as scenery-gnawing First Order villain General Hux. Some new characters are in play, the most prominent being Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, who teams up with Finn (John Boyega) for a side adventure. There are a lot of characters at play here, but Johnson weaves them together all but flawlessly. Every character gets their moment, and even less prominent characters—like Benicio Del Toro’s scoundrel DJ or Laura Dern’s Rebel leader Amilyn Holdo—feel fleshed-out despite a dearth of screen time.

Two characters not mentioned yet are Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver)—and it’s with them that The Last Jedi really takes flight. The age-old conflict between good and evil, light and dark, has always been the driving force (sorry) of the Star Wars franchise. In how he interweaves the evolution of aspiring Jedi Rey and aspiring Sith Kylo Ren, Johnson deepens the Star Wars mythology, complicates it—makes The Last Jedi nothing less than the smartest, most nuanced, most ambitious Star Wars film ever made.

In doing so, Johnson widens the Star Wars story, taking it from what it was—a relatively personal saga of the Skywalker family, their inner dramas and interpersonal conflicts writ large across a galactic stage—to what it has to be in order to move forward: a sprawling, epic, full-fledged mythology that finally feels like it’s stretching its fingers to the very edge of a galaxy far, far away.

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