Rating: 4.5 / 5
When Disney resurrected the “Star Wars” franchise with “The Force Awakens,” a lot of people complained that it was just a modern rehash of “A New Hope.” Rehash is a strong word though, as if “The Force Awakens” was the work of a complete hack. Director JJ Abrams (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), alongside the screenwriter of both “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi,” Lawrence Kasdan, crafted something that was incredibly fun, re-watchable and just slightly fueled by nostalgia.
Disney knew there would be some controversy. After all, they were reviving one of the most popular and iconic series in film history. A series so iconic they knew they needed to essentially create comfort food to kick “Star Wars” off again.
Fans feared that Disney was going to rip-off what most people look at as the single greatest “Star Wars” film, “The Empire Strikes Back,” when it came time to follow-up “The Force Awakens.” Boy, were they wrong.
It is shocking that this movie even exists in the “Star Wars” pantheon. It is breathtaking, it takes risk after risk and out of all nine films (including “Rogue One”) it is the only one to finally break these characters down and ground them in reality.
Rian Johnson (Director of “Looper” and the best episode of “Breaking Bad,” “Ozymandias”) is responsible for the epic that is “The Last Jedi.” It is a “Star Wars” film that takes everything fans think they have learned since 1977 and throws it out of the window.
“Episode XIII: The Last Jedi” has a tone that is totally foreign to the rest of the “Star Wars” films. Its pacing is deliberate and full of intent. As if all of the individual working parts are waiting to collide with one another. Johnson seems to have traded in the traditional “Star Wars” swipe transitions for fades used more in the animated series, “Star Wars Rebels,” while balancing three simultaneous storylines. In the past, these films appeared as if all of the high-stakes action was taking place at a singular location in the galaxy and Johnson broadens the scope of desperation for these heroes.
The first being the conflicts within the Resistance fleet while struggling to survive against Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes”), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, “mother!”), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Logan Lucky”). With little hope left and even less supplies, soldiers and ammunition, the animosity amongst the crew emerges.
For once, audiences finally see the process of the Rebels’ Resistance rather than “here’s a plan, let’s execute it with barely any trouble, the day is saved, hooray!” Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, “Suburbicon”) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern, “Twin Peaks: The Return”) clash as they have differences in opinion when it comes to what is best for the survival of the Resistance. The tension that spreads throughout the crew as they are escaping the clutches of the First Order is something out of a war-thriller that “Star Wars” finally, and successfully, nails.
In a last ditch effort to survive, Finn (John Boyega, “Detroit”) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran, “XOXO”) rendezvous to Canto Bight’s casino to find the only person that can help the Resistance escape the First Order’s lightspeed tracking. For the first time in a “Star Wars” film, somebody cannot just hit the jump to lightspeed to escape whatever danger is approaching. Now the First Order can stay right on the Resistance’s thrusters no matter where they plan to escape to in the galaxy.
Finn and Rose’s storyline is maybe the least interesting point in the film, but another side of the galaxy is finally shown. As gorgeous as the Canto Bight casino is, it is DJ (Benicio Del Toro, “Sicario”) that shows Finn the truth. Finally, the economy of this universe is shown. People are profiting off both sides of the war, that good and bad is an arbitrary concept when in business fueling the big machine that is this everlasting war. The same guy that sells TI-Fighters to Snoke is selling X-Wings to Leia, and so on and so forth. This implementation is something George Lucas struggled to achieve with his prequel trilogy and Johnson gets it right with one simple scene.
“The Force Awakens” ends with Rey (Daisy Ridley, “Murder on the Orient Express”) arriving on Anch-To finally tracking down the last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, “Brigsby Bear”) and Johnson picks up exactly where audiences were left off. This is not the Luke Skywalker audiences know and love. Hamill has even expressed his uncertainty with the direction Johnson took with this character but trusted him throughout the process.
Skywalker is a broken man, a man that has disappointed himself even more than he has disappointed those he loves. He is a fallen legend that refuses to continue the hypocrisy that is the Jedi religion. It is fascinating to see one of the most optimistic characters in film become a pessimistic shell of a man he once was. Without spoiling much, every single second Hamill is on-screen reprising Skywalker is mesmerizing and a true achievement that the franchise took this kind of chance with him.
Alongside Rey’s attempt to train under former Jedi Master Skywalker, she is also struggling with her own self. Between her obsession with what really happened on Jakku with her parents, Rey’s journey to understand the force puts her at odds with Kylo Ren once again. But not in a physical battle, more of a psychological one between the two. The intricacies of their relationship surpass beyond the typical romance one would expect to see. They have a back and forth throughout the film that brings up the debate on who is on the right side of history.
Driver by far gives the best performance in “The Last Jedi.” Between Carrie Fisher giving her final bow as Leia, Hamill giving an acting clinic while breaking down Luke Skywalker, and all of the other noteworthy roles, it is young Adam Driver that absolutely crushes every scene he is in. The vulnerability and versatility of a young man that just wants to prove everybody wrong gives for some of the best emotional moments of the film.
Steve Yedlin (“Danny Collins”) has been the director of photography on Johnson’s films since they were 18 years old. He shot his debut “Brick” for him, which launched his career, and even the acclaimed sci-fi drama “Looper.” Yedlin and Johnson crafted, without a doubt, the most gorgeous “Star Wars” movie to date. It is genuinely beautiful. Between Holdo hitting lightspeed against the First Order and Skywalker emerging from the flames, there are so many perfect shots in this film. It complements the emotional moments like no other.
“The Last Jedi” is all about the grey areas within the galaxy. It is hard to determine what is good and bad anymore. People have their own desires and goals and feelings about everything and for once, difference of opinion within the same side emerges. At 2 hours and 32 minutes this is the longest “Star Wars” yet and deservedly so. With all of the twists and turns, with all of the action packed, jaw dropping moments, “The Last Jedi” is a film worthy enough to be compared to “The Empire Strikes Back.” Johnson has crafted something truly masterful within this multi-billion dollar franchise.
Image from Star Wars via YouTube.com