“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
2 hours, 32 minutes
I don’t know if you heard, but there is a new “Star Wars” movie in theaters. Who am I kidding? By this time, most of you will have seen it already, some of you twice.
“The Last Jedi” is an amazing, epic, and sometimes messy film that seems to have thrown some fans for a loop, even while it’s gotten near universal critical praise.
What did I think? Well, up until last year, I would have said it was impossible for me to be dissatisfied with a “Star Wars” movie, at least not within the first few weeks of its release. Going back to look at my reviews for the prequels, I’m embarrassed at how much I defended them, especially since I can’t make it through a one of them today.
But last year’s “Rogue One” was a bit of disappointment for me. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad movie or anything, but it certainly has its problems. Not that it has anything to do with “The Last Jedi,” beyond the fact that it helps me to believe that my genuine affection for this latest film is legit.
Where the last film ends with new Force-acolyte Rey handing off a well-worn lightsaber to Luke Skywalker, in exile on a remote planet, “Jedi” begins with the Resistance fleet and Commander Poe Dameron defending a heretofore hidden base from a recently arrived First Order armada.
The scene is pure “Star Wars.” Crazy space battle, completely illogical physics (could you really “drop” bombs on a Star Destroyer in space?) and beautifully timed emotional beats. This was a great way to draw us into the film. We get back to Rey and cranky Luke Skywalker soon enough, but director Rian Johnson is smart to focus on the fun character and everybody’s favorite new droid, BB8.
Back at the monastery/hideout with Luke, Rey is finding out that her hero may not want to run off and save the galaxy for old time’s sake after all. Luke is scarred from his experience with a young Kylo Ren, or as he knew him, Ben Solo. Ren ran off to rule the galaxy with his new hero Supreme Leader Snoke, and Luke went into exile. Try as she might, Rey will need a miracle to get him off his island.
In the meantime, Finn, our errant Stormtrooper, and a new friend, mechanic Rose Tico are off to a casino planet to find a shady burglar to help them sneak on to the First Order flagship in order to disable a … you know what? It’s too much. Just go see the movie.
But why? For one, the performances are spot on. Carrie Fisher, who died this year, has much more to do in this film and comes off far better than her brief scenes in “The Force Awakens.” Mark Hamill, who was kind of the joke of the original trilogy has turned into a really good actor over the years and makes the most of his well-earned growl and glare.
Of the new cast, Oscar Isaac is still doing the most to channel the fun of the original films, and Daisy Ridley is really carrying the emotional weight of her character well.
John Boyega has less to do in this film, but is still great and I really enjoyed the chemistry between him and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, playing Rose Tico. One of the best things about Tran’s role is how unassuming she is. Unlike the small, though powerful part played by Laura Dern as a Resistance admiral, Rose Tico is awkward, plain, and despite her appearance, one of the most effective players in the film. She embodies one of the interesting things about this film, and one of the major departures it makes from other “Star Wars” films. Where every other film in the series is all about the ever expanding big picture and how each of the players will take their place in the pantheon of major players in that picture, “Jedi” is all about scaling back, resetting, rethinking, and refocusing on the small relationships that the characters have together on individual basis.
Even little silly moments, where Chewbacca befriends the penguin-like Porg, carry the throughline. Maybe it’s not all about the grand scheme and sacrificing yourself to save a planet or the galaxy. Maybe it’s about putting yourself in harm’s way to simply help your friend or your family.
Johnson, who you may know from such visually stylistic films as “Looper,” “Brick,” or “The Brothers Bloom,” is able to also bring some of his unique visual style to this film as well, giving us a movie that, for the first time, doesn’t feel like it’s deliberately aping George Lucas — at least not all the time. I love all the close-ups, the over exposed lighting, the odd angles and the sped up film-stock. It makes you feel like “Star Wars” really could grow into its own genre — spawning adventures and characters with little or no connection to the original story.
Though a small, disgruntled subset of fanboys are panning this film because it doesn’t answer questions they want answers to, and because it scraps a lot of their pet theories, most people are impressed — so much so that Johnson has just been given the task to create a new, adjacent but unrelated trilogy for Disney and Lucasfilm. I will line up for that. And to see this movie, again.
“The Last Jedi” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and a few scary senses.