Star Wars fans are a tricky bunch to please. They’re excited at the prospect of something new, something that delves further into the mythos of the Force, but when presented with something as half-baked as midichlorians, they riot. That was the lesson learned from the Prequel Trilogy – Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith – a series that sought to explore both the birth of the Empire and Darth Vader. Ten years later, with renowned director J. J. Abrams at the helm, The Force Awakens returned audiences to a galaxy far, far away and they rejoiced….until they didn’t. It’s too new. It’s too similar. Where’s Luke? Well, fanboys and fangirls, Rian Johnson (Looper) heard you and crafted a story that will build you up, break you down, and rebuild you all over again. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson explores the old to usher in the new and it will wow you again and again.
At the end of The Force Awakens, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), destroyed the First Order’s Starkiller Base, mourned the death of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) at the hands of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and sent Rey (Daisy Ridley) with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to the last known location of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Leia, Rey, and the rest of the Resistance believe that Luke is the key to stopping the First Order from finally taking over the galaxy; that he is the spark that will light the flames of resistance, which will lead to the end of the First Order for good.
To describe Johnson’s task of writing and directing a Star Wars film that both honors the past while breaking new ground as “herculean” would be the understatement of the year. Without question, Star Wars has become a property so beloved, that the relationship between creator and fandom is, on the good days, contentious at best but Johnson has successfully found a way to ingratiate the characters of the Original Trilogy with those of the New to tell a story that’s as emotionally gratifying as it is visually stunning. For that, Johnson deserves great commendations.
But what you really want to know is: Will The Last Jedi rock my socks off? The answer: Yes. From the moment the Star Wars logo appears with John Williams’s iconic score blaring through the speakers until the credits roll, the whole adventure is a wild ride. Johnson wisely utilizes practical effects wherever possible, making the whole of the film feel more real than ever before. Characters of old get their time to shine, while new ones are finally able to show what they can do. Questions get answered, sprouting new ones, never feeling cheap or dishonest. Much like The Empire Strikes Back, Jedi is the middle film which treads on the old, giving way to something unexpectedly new.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Jedi is without problems. Where the original stories focused on a core group of characters, Jedi introduces even more into the canon which requires spending more and more time away from the ones we know. While it’s fantastic to see new worlds and meet new characters, it leaves the whole of Jedi being spread too far and too thin. This becomes increasingly more noticeable the further into the film we go. Hard cuts without clear transition occur again and again, causing us to jump back and forth between storylines just as things are getting going. Given the plot structure, it’s a necessity to keep checking in as to how each character is doing, but the brisk pace of it is jolting.
Without question, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not only an entertaining film, but a satisfying addition to the core story that will leave fans and casual film-goers alike stunned and in awe. Even as the longest film in the series – clocking in at 2hrs 32min – it never feels dull or drawn out, making the arrival of the credits all the more surprising. The greatest delight that Johnson provides longtime fans of the series, however, is the gift of Carrie Fisher: offering to audiences one last appearance by General Organa in a story befitting the character who first appeared to us as the no-nonsense, self-saving heroine in 1977’s original Star Wars. Her sudden passing in December 2016 shook fans around the world and The Last Jedi offers us all one last, worthy glimpse at the Princess who would lead a rebellion, stealing all our hearts in the process. Though we may never know how her passing impacted the narrative of Jedi or the upcoming untitled Episode Nine, Jedi provides an ending befitting her legacy.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.