REVIEW: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

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Considering how massive an epic “Star Wars: The Force Awakes” was I couldn’t WAIT to see what its sequel had to offer and boy did it deliver, well mostly. “The Last Jedi” is one of the biggest films of the year, to noone’s surprise, and had a lot to live up to doing so with a pretty significant change in focus and tone that delves deeper into characters and less into the expansive world that is the literal “Star Wars” universe. With great story telling, emotional depth, and a willingness to pace itself without sacrificing its story “The Last Jedi” might just be the best sequel of 2017. But just how good is the latest installment in the main “Star Wars” saga? Let’s dive in and find out!

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“Stars Wars: The Last Jedi” once again stars Daisy Ridley as Force-sensitive scavenger Rey who has set out after the events of “The Force Awakens” to retrieve legendary Jedi master Luke Skywalker, once again portrayed by Mark Hamill. Skywalker reluctantly takes Rey under his wing and reveals his personal struggles after a mishap led to the creation of Kylo Ren, played again by Adam Driver. Meanwhile Kylo struggles with letting go of his past and embracing the dark side in full while his master Snoke, played by Andy Serkis, directs and all out assault on what remains of Princess Leia, played one last time by the late Carrie Fisher, and the rest of the Resistance. As Rey trains, her allies Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) form a plan with new ally Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to help the Resistance escape the First Order. As multiple storylines play out everything comes together as the fate of the Rebellion, and the Jedi, hang in the balance.

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With a series as respected and celebrated as “Star Wars” there’s bound to be some difficulty presenting a story that stands out, but where “The Last Jedi” succeeds is not just in its attempt to present its own story but also in the its willingness to focus on aspects that few other films in the series have truly been dedicated to developing. To some extent “The Last Jedi” does borrow SOME elements from “The Empire Strikes Back”, but all in all “The Last Jedi” gives us a pretty complete and original story that successfully manages to juggle several different plot lines and develop multiple characters without feeling bogged down and overstuffed. Despite the star power and iconic characters associated with this franchise noone seems to be left out and everyone has a chance to dominate the screen and what we get as a result is a smaller scale space epic that feels more human than ever before.

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With a new primary focus on character, we see several of our favorite rebels and villains grow and evolve as the film progresses giving us a chance to get to know characters new and old much better after the events of “The Force Awakens” managed to provide a great baseline for the sequel trilogy. The most obvious story we see play out is the bonding, and somewhat love/hate relationship, between Luke Skywalker and Rey as Rey tries to convince the Jedi legend to leave his self-imposed exile to help the Resistance take on the First Order and Luke’s failed student Kylo Ren. The film delves into the relationship between Luke and Kylo through some pretty smooth flashback sequences that play into Luke’s teachings to Rey, which makes those flashbacks feel necessary rather than just pure exposition. One of my favorite parts of this particular storyline is Luke’s struggle with the consequences of his failure. He’s still kind of an innocent child inside who feels like he couldn’t live up to greatness of his predecessors and thus created a “new Vader”.

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This inner struggle gives Luke amazing depth and shows us a side of the character we’ve never seen before, one that is surprisingly human despite his legendary status. Mark Hamill truly embraced the opportunity to bring his most famous character back to the big screen in full force, no pun intended. Watching Luke continue to grow as a person and a Jedi, even after all this time, was fun and fascinating especially as he tried to prove to his new student why the Jedi should end, even though he knows the benefits of the Jedi outweigh the risks. This is a man who despite his great accomplishments is haunted by his greatest failure more than anything. An overbearing ego and an inner struggle to forgive himself and his bloodline for what they became makes “The Last Jedi” a surprise growing experience for Luke making him so much more than fanfare. He is a full-fledged part of this tale that in many ways acts as closure for a celebrated character. Exactly how I won’t spoil here.

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The other end of this story is Rey who is portrayed as much more confident and focused than in the first film as both Daisy Ridley and her character seem to have grown a lot since her debut. Rey’s story arc is directly tied with both Luke and antagonist Kylo Ren who has also evolved a bit since Adam Driver first brought the character to the screen. Kylo is now doubting his place in the First Order while Rey is questioning her place in the larger world. The two are yin and yang, exact opposites but seemingly tied together by fate especially when the Force allows them to communicate and share their feelings, stories, and fears proving that they are more alike than they believed. For Rey this brings revelations of her attachment to her family, which she barely even remembers, and how she continues to seek out figures to fill this gap in her life. This is the demon Rey struggles with through most of the film, which is an important part of her feeling displaced in the world and wanting answers from Luke Skywalker that he may be unwilling to give. Daisy Ridley is fantastic in her portrayal of a damaged but confident young woman who never seems too sure of herself but also never allows her pain to take control.

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The same can’t be said for Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren. For a while there seems to be almost a familial bond between he and Rey, and whether or not that plays out I won’t spoil here. All the same I LOVED this dynamic. Driver and Ridley embrace a slightly awkward chemistry that plays out well on screen as the two portray jaded individuals each searching for meaning and a place to exist. This was by far my favorite character arc of the whole film, the combined development of both Rey and Kylo into not just well defined people in general, but flawed and truly human characters helped them go well beyond the simple tropes of typical “Star Wars” lore.

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Outside of his relationship with Rey, Ren’s solo story is also satisfyingly deep as he deals with the inner struggles of having killed his father and trying to live up to his master Snoke’s expectations. Kylo becomes a delightfully complex character in this film, one whose allegiance is in question throughout the entire project and one who experiences a fantastic moment in the film’s final act that helps to further define the conflict within him. Without spoiling the events of the movie I will say Kylo undergoes a major shift that puts him in a position to lead major attacks on the Rebellion, but his character flaws are fully fleshed out in these moments setting him up to be a tragic villain in the concluding story of the trilogy in two years time. Driver’s performance is much more laid back than the previous movie but we still get a man who is frustrated, angry, and even a bit childlike in his search for meaning. It’s a harsh and real representation of the villain which draws parallels to the legendary Darth Vader but thankfully stands well on its own, especially when you consider how Kylo’s relationship with Supreme Leader Snoke plays into this storyline.

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While I’m on that subject I just want to give a shoutout to Andy Serkis for his portrayal of the First Order leader Snoke. This is an underrated performance in the film, and there is reason really for this fact as much of the story focuses more on Kylo’s transformation. Serkis’s performance gives us a memorable and truly threatening being worthy of fearing and bowing down too. He’s a strong villain in both literal power and in how he carries himself and while he may not go down as the most legendary of “Star Wars” villains this film establishes him as one worthy of appreciating. He might not be the centerpiece, but his presence demands respect as all great villains should.

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The other major storyline in “The Last Jedi” follows Poe, Finn and new character Rose, whose sister sacrificed herself to help stop the First Order, as they try to track down a master hacker to disrupt a new tracking mechanism on board Supreme Leader Snoke’s New Order ship. This story allows Finn and Poe to grow on their own, away from Rey, and we learn more about their personalities, including Finn’s cautious but still strong feelings for Rey and Poe’s “shoot first ask questions later” approach to battle, aspects of both men that were heavily hinted at in the first movie but never truly became anything other than minor character traits. While this is very much the B story of the film and doesn’t quite carry the same emotional depth and nuances of the Luke-Rey-Kylo saga, it was cool to see these characters as individuals develop into more relevant players in the larger war at hand. I have to say while I didn’t feel this B story was unwarranted or hurt the movie in any major way, I didn’t quite feel like it served much of any true purpose other than to make these characters more relevant in the grand scheme of things, especially considering how it all plays out. In the end it served its primary purpose of at least adding significance and depth to the celebrated minor roles in this trilogy.

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With several different stories all occurring at once and, to some extent, intertwining director Rian Johnson actually does some very nice work with the pacing of this rather lengthy film. The movie jumps from story to story, as “Star Wars” films tend to do, at all the right moments and spends just enough time dwelling on each individual story without forsaking the other events unraveling elsewhere. Eventually it all comes back around and every character arc feels complete and fulfilling in some way shape or form all leading to a truly epic finale that isn’t quite what you expect but is incredibly fun nonetheless. The story is layered and allows time for both levity in the form of great comedic timing and one-liners as well as the nuances of deeper elements of every story taking place. There’s a surprising amount of true emotion in this film that helps set it apart from nearly every other film in the franchise. Honestly I felt “The Last Jedi” successfully captured everything that made “Rogue One” a great film in 2016. Both films were funny but allowed themselves to be more dramatic and even tragic at times. If this is the direction “Star Wars” is headed count me in because it’s worked twice now!

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Now there were a few things I felt were flawed in “The Last Jedi” that I just can’t ignore. While many have criticized the length of the story and a rather strange and incomplete moment with Princess Leia that seemed a bit extreme my complaint is more focused on the lack of expanse in this film. For a franchise that prides itself in exploring multiple worlds and the galaxy as a whole, “The Last Jedi” may be one of the smallest settings in the entire franchise with only four true set pieces and two small armies involved in most of the story. The characters are seen on only three different planets (four if you count the brief minutes escaping one at the start) which to their credit are all beautifully rendered and designed, and then the ships of the First Order and Rebellion. This felt like kind of a bummer considering how large the universe of “Star Wars” has been in the past. To this end the film kind of felt small compared to the larger scale movies that came before it and I have to admit the cat and mouse game between the Rebellion and First Order felt a bit ridiculous, almost like the filmmakers couldn’t quite figure out how to make this work without a ridiculous laser distance concept. Despite this though there may be a method to this madness.

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Despite all that this film does offer in terms of story and character development there truly does feel like there are some elements that were a bit phoned in keeping “The Last Jedi” from being quite as epic as it wants or deserves to be, but to play devil’s advocate as I reminisce on my experience watching the film this small scale approach to the conflict did allow for the story to be more character focused with the visuals more geared toward character appearance and detail than creating lavish massive planets for us to drool over. To give the film and its staff the benefit of the doubt this might have been a situation of “something’s got to give” where world building was sacrificed in favor of story and character development. The final result is still an excellent piece of filmmaking even if it kind of defies some of the expectations of fans of the long-running franchise with new direction and a unique identity all its own.

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To conclude, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a solid film and spectacular entry in the saga that to this day still holds the world’s attention firmly in its grasp. While I disagree to some extent with many who are calling it the best “Star Wars” film ever, “The Last Jedi’s” merits firmly outweigh its flawed approach to presenting the actual galaxy far far away. With a new, deeper and more emotionally charged focus on characters and story “The Last Jedi” promises great things still to come from this sequel trilogy. As I said before, with this and “Rogue One” taking a decidedly deeper look into the human aspects of the series’ ever-growing cast of characters I truly enjoy where this franchise is headed and while it’s not the best “Star Wars” film “The Last Jedi” holds up perfectly to its predecessor and is a space adventure still very much worth the ride, earning it an admittedly soft perfect score from me.

 

 

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3 comments on “REVIEW: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi””

  1. Great review. The Last Jedi met my high expectations. It was definitely different (in terms of narrative) to what The Force Awakens was presented, which is a good thing. My only complaint was a few WTF moments, especially that one Snoke scene and that one Leia scene.

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