MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI-- 4 STARS
Throw out all of the Star Wars fan theories you’ve read or heard in the last two years. Burn all of the guessing game memes and wannabe clever GIFs. Ignore all of the online noise and irresponsible think piece editorials that have piled up on the web since Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Most importantly, relinquish whatever warped and selfish expectations that have been formulated by the blitz of marketing buzz. Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes its mountain of hype and shoves it away to make something nonconformist and wholly compelling in quite possibly the richest and most expressive entry of the storied franchise.
Though victorious after destroying the massive Starkiller base, the location of the rebellious Resistance forces, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), was exposed, leading to an all-out evacuation from D’Qar. Commanding a pursuing fleet of superior firepower, the First Order’s General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), a now maskless Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Supreme Leader Snoke (performance capture god Andy Serkis) himself trail Leia’s retreating convey with the ability to track them even in hyperspace. Running out of fuel and escape options, Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) preach staying the course while the daredevil pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), deserting hero Finn (John Boyega), and his maintenance worker friend Rose Tico (newcomer Kelly Marie Tran) seek a strategic counteroffensive.
LESSON #1: ALL IT TAKES IS A SPARK-- What the Resistance begs for is a spark to ignite their cause. They desperately need a stroke of luck, a flaw to exploit, a tide-turning jolt, or an assertive infusion of strengthened leadership to shift the momentum in their favor. With odds this dire, more than one will be needed.
Meanwhile, on the oceanic planet of Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and her emerging power within The Force have disturbed Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) self-sentenced exile on the island-based first Jedi temple. She and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo) come with an urgent plea for the hermetic Jedi Master to come to his sister’s aid and save the Resistance. He answers with refusal to train Rey or leave the island. Skywalker echoes doubts of his own purpose and abilities, especially with the prospect of facing down and recovering any semblance of the Ben Solo he remembers inside of Kylo Ren, the pupil he failed to train and save from Snoke’s puppeteering and dark dealings.
LESSON #2: IMBALANCE IS DETRIMENTAL-- This wouldn’t be a Star Wars space opera without the “turning” rhetoric and the tenuous balance between the light and dark sides of The Force. Any imbalance here is crippling to psyches and galaxies. Previously billed with temptation as its proverbial gateway drug, this time around its strength versus strength and power versus power and the competing wills have only gotten bigger.
Though free of J.J. Abrams’ grifter ways for a film, deceptive motivations and evasive misdirection still reign in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Executing keen diligence, the resulting sequel journey is powered by a highly engrossing literal and figurative tug-of-war of tremendous tension. This film continues to guard the answers to its biggest questions, which goes back to discarding all of the prognosticating and handicapping clickbait. Let this storyline flourish to you unrushed. Sharply lensed by ascending cinematographer Steve Yedlin (San Andreas) and featuring massively detailed production design work from Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow), the reward is a movie that pops with rich color, warm humor, striking gravitas, and expansive significance.
With smirks and tears, the old veterans steal this show from the rookies. The non-Jedi characters like Poe and Finn are confined to find-it or fix-it obstacles in a few subplot dalliances that, forgivable for the most part, overly extend this film’s lengthy running time and delaying climaxes. The confrontational destinies of Kylo Ren and Rey do progress forward and both Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley improve from the previous film, but one could argue that the most substantial character growth in Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes from Luke and Leia. Considerable care is given to Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher and they rise to the occasion with a pair of soaringly poignant performances. Backed often by perfect musical callbacks to their mutually assigned motifs that rise from the new themes composed by the masterful John Williams, many of their moments carry heartrending eminence.
LESSON #3: PERSONAL FAILURES ARE TEACHABLE MOMENTS-- The implications and impact of failure comprise a key central theme in this Star Wars chapter. Some level of failure is inevitable. Even legends with destinies encountered failure that either derailed their evolution or defined its adaptability moving forward. Fate following failure is paramount.
LESSON #4: COMBATING HATE WITH LOVE-- Piggybacking off of Lesson #3, the prevailing hope for a fate of victory instead of failure lies in this series’s mythic struggle between good and evil. The lowly and rising Rose delivers the quote of the movie when she "That's how we're gonna win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love." That’s the intrepid essence that makes Star Wars special.
Impressively written and directed by Looper’s Rian Johnson, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a proper middle chapter for what is shaping up to be a grand trilogy. True to the ideal purpose of a midpoint portion, this episode thoroughly raises the stakes and increases the peril. Better yet and through new stylistic filmmaking choices like slow motion and flashbacks for a Star Wars saga, Johnson elevates the overall narrative with an aim to deepen the sizable mythology that has been indoctrinated by so many fans and followers for 40 years, taking The Force to new and unforeseen scales and heights. Johnson prominently proves his ideal sensibility and talent for this immense undertaking.
LESSON #5: BREATHE-- Lastly, Luke Skywalker’s initial word of instruction and advice from the early trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi is something everyone inside and outside of the movie needs to heed. Rian Johnson and company operate with an acute sense of pace and pause. Impulsive characters pay for their lack of composure. The same can be said of arriving fans to the multiplexes. If you walk out of this film whining about something not going the way you were convinced it was going to go, that’s your problem, not the film’s. Inhale. Exhale. Relax. Focus. Think with a breath before you speak or act. An extra measure of patience should be preached to see this whole story to completion before full judgment because that climactic film is looming two long years away from knocking our socks off even more.