Immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, the First Order wastes no time in striking back against the Resistance. Supreme Leader Snoke, General Hux, and Kylo Ren bring all their forces to bear against General Leia and her small band of freedom fighters. Their fleet corners our heroes and begins picking off Resistance ships one by one as they flee their base. Despite the reckless efforts of Poe Dameron and the other Resistance members, their hope quickly fades…until a recently-revived Finn and a lowly technician named Rose Tico come up with a plan that will allow them to escape the First Order’s relentless pursuit.
Meanwhile, Rey, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 have finally tracked down missing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker to bring him back to the Resistance and save the day. However, there’s one big problem – Luke doesn’t want to go. Determined to die as the last Jedi on a lonely island, he turns his back on them. Rey isn’t willing to give up just yet as she needs someone to guide her in using her newfound powers. But if Luke Skywalker won’t be the teacher she needs, Kylo Ren is ready to show her the ways of the Dark Side.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
The Last Jedi is a hard film to review without getting into spoilers, but I will do my best to keep this spoiler free. One way to do that is to speak at a high level, so I’ll say this – this film is filled with bold choices. From choices with classic characters like Luke and Leia to choices with new characters like Kylo Ren and Rey, every character has a moment that will surprise you. Rian Johnson made some fearless choices with all of them (or at least he made it look fearless). Some paid off and others didn’t, but overall you have to give him credit for taking the characters in new directions. On at least six different occasions in this movie I said to myself, “I can’t believe they just did that!”
Another notable aspect of The Last Jedi is the humor. This is arguably the Star Wars movie with the most humor in the series. Despite the very dark themes in this movie, every character has a line of dialogue that makes you laugh. Leia, Rey, Luke, and even General Hux generate genuine laughs with their dialogue. And if you were afraid the little birds called porgs were going to be the new Ewoks or Jar-Jar, never fear. They provide much needed levity to the film during Rey and Luke’s heavy scenes. And some of the humor is downright dark, and I loved it. Sign me up as pro-porg.
The action in The Last Jedi delivers in a big way. The opening space battle featuring Poe and BB-8 in their X-wing is one of the best dogfights in the series. And while there are a lot of great explosions, Rian Johnson takes a moment to put a face on the Resistance pilots and the price they pay to save Leia and the others. It adds much needed heart so that when the action hits, you care about what the characters are going through. That comes into play in a big way when we are treated to one of the best lightsaber fights in the entire Star Wars Saga. When it kicks into gear, it is absolutely stunning and the cheers of the audience will give you goosebumps. The carnage that ensues is everything a Star Wars fan could hope for.
As for the cast, they are across the board excellent. Daisy Ridley returns as Rey and is as lovable as before. She has a number of scenes with Adam Driver as Kylo Ren and they are excellent together. The two enemies are forced to talk and their conversations are as intense and as emotional as their battles. There is a lot of payoff there from the seeds planted in The Force Awakens. Oscar Isaac also returns as Poe Dameron and he is fantastic. His dogfight scenes are perfectly executed and his relationship with BB-8 is as heartwarming as that between Luke and R2-D2. But his character is a lot more developed in this film. While his brashness and heart served him well in The Force Awakens, they get him in trouble in The Last Jedi. In short, Poe’s story arc in this film steers him to become the leader he needs to be for the Resistance. He’s got to “know when to walk away, know when to run”. The new characters are fun, too. Kelly Marie Tran is lovable as Rose Tico. She’s well-paired with John Boyega as Finn. When the skills of the characters are paired together, they’re a formidable team. Laura Dern is also great as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. She butts heads with Poe in a big way, but that doesn’t necessarily make her wrong. It’s an interesting dynamic between the two consisting of mutual respect and disagreement.
The cast from the classic films also return in fine form. Mark Hamill does a great job with Luke. He’s tragic and sad, but his reluctance to be pulled back into the conflict leads up to some stunning moments later in the story. Carrie Fisher is also great as Leia. It’s a bit sad seeing her on the big screen after her passing, and almost every line she delivers feels like it references that. But she is treated with a lot of respect in the film and she even has some surprising twists along the way. There is also a nice acknowledgement of her in the credits.
On the visual effects front, one of the most notable things is Andy Serkis as Supreme Leader Snoke. The CGI for him as astoundingly detailed. You never feel like you’re looking at a CG creation and Serkis really brings him to life. There are also a number of cool creatures in the film besides the aforementioned porgs. There are the crystal foxes called vulptexs which will be fan favorites. There are also the falthiers that are essentially space racehorses on the casino world of Canto Bight.
I recommend going into The Last Jedi as spoiler free as possible, but there are a number of surprises in store for you. There are cool cameos, insights into the origins of some characters, and more. And the final scene of the film will leave you with a lump in your throat, a tear in your eye, and ready to see Episode IX.
What Didn’t Work:
As much as I loved The Last Jedi, I can acknowledge that it does have some issues.
First up, there are some bizarre choices with practical effects. I know it’s fashionable to use practical effects over CGI, but in one crucial scene, the practical effect is so bad it ruins the moment. I won’t get into specifics, but you’ll know it when you see it. In another bizarre choice, we see Luke milking a creature on Ahch-To. And it’s not just like milking a cow. This thing has four human-like breasts and is lounging. They could have maybe made a reference to A New Hope by making it blue milk, but it’s green. I just don’t know what they were thinking with this.
There were some unusual character choices, too. Snoke is seen in his hideous glory, but we learn almost nothing about him. He’s an intriguing character, but he is not used to his full potential. Benicio del Toro is also very underutilized as DJ. There were also unusual choices made with Luke and Leia, but I can’t get into it without discussing spoilers. But suffice it to say I wanted to see more of Luke than we ultimately do. Finally, in one scene Rey has a vision much like Luke’s in the cave on Dagobah. But it’s just visually unusual and weird to the point it doesn’t feel quite Star Wars-like.
Plot-wise, I felt the entire side story at the casino world of Canto Bight was unnecessary. If you cut the entire sequence out of the film, it would have little impact on the core narrative. And while the plot of the First Order chasing down the resistance fleet was exciting, it felt very much like an episode of Battlestar Galactica entitled “33” where the Cylons doggedly pursued the refugee ships through faster-than-light jumps. It was a little too familiar. Speaking of familiar things, while the battle with the AT-M6 walkers on Crait is exciting, it’s all a little too reminiscent of the battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back. I felt like more effort should have been made to make original vehicles and a unique battle. And some scenes in Snoke’s throne room felt way too similar to those in Return of the Jedi. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that most of John Williams’ score consists of themes from the previous films. I don’t think there was a memorable original theme in The Last Jedi.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, The Last Jedi is a very satisfying entry into the Star Wars Saga. It has some fantastic, jaw-dropping moments that you’ll want to see on the big screen with fans. As of this writing, I’ve seen the film twice and there are many new things to discover with each viewing. And I was amazed to see that Rian Johnson foreshadowed a lot of his biggest surprises early in the film. Buy extra tickets. You’re gonna need them.
As for my rankings of the series to date, I’d say the following as of now:
#1 – The Empire Strikes Back
#2 – A New Hope
#3 – The Last Jedi and Rogue One (tied)
#5 – The Force Awakens and Return of the Jedi (tied)
#7 – Revenge of the Sith
#8 – Attack of the Clones
#9 – The Phantom Menace
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