(Image via Walt Disney Pictures/Lucasfilm)
I thought Rian Johnson was the perfect choice to direct a Star Wars film when it was announced he would direct one. His resume, from small (Brick) to midsize (Looper) genre fare, and to his incredible work on television (He directed some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, “The Fly” and “Ozymandias”, the series’ best episode), is exceptional. He’s a director that’s capable of making exciting and captivating blockbuster filmmaking, while also bringing an emotion to the material that’s rare for such a big epic like Star Wars. And while The Last Jedi does have its faults along the way, Johnson has created just that. A sequel that’s captivating, exciting, entertaining, and emotional. This is by far the best Star Wars chapter in this new Disney-produced trilogy.
The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left us, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) traveling across the galaxy to meet Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and get his guidance and help in defeating Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who it was revealed in the last film that Luke had trained before Ren turned to the Dark Side. Meanwhile, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and the rest of the Resistance continue to flee from The First Order, and that’s all I can really say about the plot without getting into major spoilers.
Johnson wrote the screenplay himself, which is where a lot of strength lies in storytelling. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Brick, his last film, I really admired the flick for the kind of world-building that Johnson was able to accomplish with that film, in showing a grounded future in which assassins assassinate people from the future, and the danger of time travel when messed with. The same can be said for his neo-noir crime thriller Brick, which imagined a high school acting like an old school Hollywood noir thriller.
Obviously, Star Wars is one of the biggest franchises on the planet and doesn’t need to do any sort of world building like those two examples that I listed. But Johnson still manages to make this sequel stand on its own and be its own thing, while also feeling inspired and true to the Star Wars that people know and love. Last Jedi, while still having that big epic feel that you’d expect from a Star Wars film, also has a bit of a grounded feel at times, along with some quieter, introspective moments. The sequences of Luke and Rey on that mountain cliff of a planet will obviously get comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke was training with Yoda on the Dagobah system, which is neat in how Luke Skywalker’s arc as a character has come full circle in that sense, from the trainee to the trainer. The sequence on that planet does feel long, but not to the point of needing to look down at your watch to check the time (although the 2.5+ hour running time doesn’t help).
The performances in this new Star Wars, like The Force Awakens, is one of the stronger aspects of the film. Daisy Ridley continues to impress, as does Adam Driver and John Boyega in their respected roles as Kylo Ren and Finn, the imperial soldier turned Resistance fighter. Carrie Fisher does some of her best work to date in what ended up being her final film performance, and Mark Hamill gives maybe the best performance of the entire film. He’s really terrific as Luke in this film, and for spoiler reasons I can’t exactly tell you why he’s so good, but when you see the film you’ll definitely understand. We also get some new characters played by Kelly Marie Tran, who plays a Resistance maintenance member, and Laura Dern as a General within the Resistance. Tran is a solid newcomer who we will hopefully get to see more of in the future, in both the Star Wars universe and in other projects, and Laura Dern is one of the greatest actresses of all time, and she gives a great performance here, even if her character and her motives weren’t fleshed out entirely.
From what I’m getting, a lot of people are mad because the film is exactly that, a film. It doesn’t feel as manufactured and executive-friendly like The Force Awakens did, and it’s throwing people off in that sense. Rian Johnson was given free rein (to an extent, of course) to make his version of a Star Wars film, and I really admire and respect the film for that sense. I’ve been frustrated with Disney firing/hiring a revolving door of directors for their Star Wars films because the vision of the director(s) don’t line up with whatever Disney wants, or what is considered “brand friendly” (look at the “Han Solo Story” debacle as an example). The Last Jedi is still a safe and audience friendly blockbuster, but it pushes the boundaries in a storytelling sense at times, which is refreshing to see sometimes.
I unfortunately can’t dive into some of the things I disliked about this film for fear of spoiling the film for any of you that haven’t bothered seeing the film yet, but my main dislikes are nitpicks about the story at times, maybe some script problems here and there, and so on. And if you’re wondering, no, the Porgs did not bother me as much as I thought they would.
The Last Jedi is a really fun Star Wars film, and the best of the series since Empire Strikes Back. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, you’ve probably already seen this film at least 4 times in the theater, and you might see it another time because of this review. For me, the film did what it needed to do. I was really entertained throughout the runtime of the film, and the storytelling decisions that Johnson made might’ve not worked 100%, I still admired the film and Mr. Johnson for attempting to do something a little bit different at times, when the film would’ve continued to play it safe like Disney did with The Force Awakens. It’s not one of the very best films of the year, but it doesn’t have to be. I like going to the movies occasionally to have fun and not expect to see a great masterpiece or anything like that. Also, I’m putting all my enthusiasm into this new Star Wars, as I have a feeling I won’t be too crazy for the forthcoming Star Wars films (The Han Solo Story and Episode 9 appear to all fall into that “Disney-friendly” mold). Now that I’ve gotten Star Wars out-of-the-way, onto a couple of more films to see before the end of the year before that top ten list is unveiled this weekend…