Last Jedi review Daisy Ridley Rey Mark Hamill LukeYear: 2017
Director(s): Rian Johnson
Writer(s): Rian Johnson
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
35mm, 65mm, Color, 252 mins

Synopsis: Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance battles with the First Order. (Source)

Let the past die. Kill it. Lucky for us, this seems to have been director Rian Johnson’s mantra while writing and directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. For the first time in too long, the series has finally been given a fresh start. That isn’t to say that Johnson doesn’t do the past justice – he definitely does, but he also realizes, that, for this new trilogy to thrive, things have to literally burn to the ground so that something new can be born from the ashes. While J.J. Abrams won fans back with The Force Awakens, it was at great cost, delivering a film that had no distinct vision, and merely a rehash of what came before. Jedi’s strengths, are that Johnson knows what we expect, this time subverting conventions to turn things on their head. It’s this reverence through irreverence, that makes Johnson’s film earn its stakes, knowing how to balance breathtaking spectacle with personal trials and blinding wit with true tragedy. For all intents and purposes, this is Johnson taking us deeper than ever, offering a complex look at its characters’ morality and mortality in ways that truly leave a mark.

When things kick off, things are already dire for Resistance rebels, who’ve been tracked down by the First Order and are locked in an unrelenting face-off that could snuff them out for good. Making things worse, a gambit by the Resistance’s prized pilot, Poe (Oscar Isaac), nearly cripples the Resistance’s fleet, leaving the rebels wide open for further attacks from the First Order’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). While Poe wrestles with General Leia (Carrie Fisher) and her second, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), on a next move, Finn (John Boyega) and a bright-eyed mechanic named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) engage in a top secret mission that could get the Resistance back on its feet. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has tracked the elusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to a remote island. Rey is grappling with the power growing within her, while Luke continues to be haunted by a past that drove him into isolation. As each character confronts the most terrifying parts of themselves, they fight to unite and bring balance back to a galaxy slowly being engulfed by shadows.

Last Jedi review Kelly Marie Tran Rose John Boyega FinnEven though Johnson is always one step ahead of his audience, his focus is still on what has made these films matter for so long – genuine family drama, and even further, an inner battle between the light and dark raging within. With its bookending race-against-time plot, Johnson tears the team apart, cutting off each character from their friends in order to make them face who they are when alone and forced to choose between two seemingly impossible choices. It’s this understanding of the series’ fundamental battle between good and evil that gives the film so much depth, showing us that sometimes what we believe is right, can often lead to making things worse. Every character has to learn this lesson in the hardest way, oft-times at great personal cost and sacrifice to the people they love. It’s this courage to journey into the dark side that makes Johnson’s film such a personal chapter, going beyond the series’ surface values to exploring the damning implications of what is lost and found during struggle. For as bleak as the film can get, though, the story is still all about hope, and while said trait can manifest in ways we didn’t know we needed, it’s still the most powerful force in the galaxy.

While the film is a deep character study, I can’t express enough how thrilling it is. As mentioned, there’s an urgency to the entire thing. Dire circumstances hang over each scene, and every desperate gamble reinforces who these characters are and what they believe in. Johnson’s innate ability to toy with expectation is wholly engaging, splintering the story in ways we just don’t see coming. There’s also a lot of humor scattered throughout, lightening the heavy load from time to time in ways that don’t feel forced. The lightsaber battles (including a climactic all-timer) and space-set dogfights are also amongst the best we’ve ever seen, not too overdone like the prequels, but twisty enough to keep us on our toes. This is literally a well-rounded film that has it all – sacrifice, heroism and loss, brought to us by some of the series’ biggest and most poetic visuals, as well as a few moments of earned shock.

Last Jedi review Adam Driver KyloNeedless to say, the ensemble is an indispensable aspect of the film, with everyone putting in great performances and building characters who are grounded despite their extraordinary circumstance. This cast is also as inclusive and diverse as the series has ever seen, with so many getting their chance to shine in ways that will make you want to cheer. An entire post would be better fitted to pay tribute to these performances, but here’s the short of it. Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver step it up, giving Rey and Kylo a deep connection that is as fascinating as it is frightening. John Boyega’s Finn and Kelly Marie Tran’s scene stealing Rose give the film its heart. Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is a boss who commands the Resistance with stoicism, while Oscar Isaac’s brash Poe is a sobering takedown of a hyper-masculine stereotype. Though all of these new characters are fun, Johnson’s heart belongs to Luke and Leia. Hamill gets some real meat to chew on this time out, working through deep character trauma with an explosive arc that’s easily a series highlight. As for Leia, you can tell their were big plans for her going into Episode IX. Still, Fisher’s role in the film is a beautiful tribute to her character and everything she came to stand for, giving the film a sense of grace and gravitas.

The Last Jedi dismantles the franchise to build it up into something greater. These films have always been about the battle between good and evil, but Johnson takes things all the way, questioning what this idea actually means. With this chapter, the focus is on characters first and foremost, infusing abstract ideals and complex trauma into true-blue heroes and villains that we can’t help but relate to. Even further, Johnson takes the series’ most mystical aspect (the nebulous Force) and turns it into something that feels more important, inclusive and innate as ever. Without mincing words, this is what The Force Awakens should’ve been, blending heart and craft into a story in which failure is just as important as success, and that crushing defeat is oft-times a precursor to rebirth and renewal – and like that, Star Wars feels new and exciting again.

SG