‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Review: A Novel Approach

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review
out of 5

In many ways, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has more to prove than The Force Awakens ever did. The first film in the new trilogy introduced new characters and merged them with the original trilogy characters, but did so with a familiar ring to it, callbacks that many fans felt “copied” Episode IV too much. But that introduction served its purpose by giving fans Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Issacs), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and firmly set them into the seemingly eternal struggle between the dark and the light in the Star Wars Universe. Now it’s up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi to make good on the promises made in the first film and deliver something new and unique, and that it does. That it does.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi breaks so many Star Wars traditions that it declares right off the bat that this is new, this is different, and like it or not, this is how it is going forward. First of all, it picks up moments after the end of The Force Awakens, whereas every previous film in the saga had a break in time between the chapters. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Poe Dameron, are on the run from their no-longer-hidden base. Finn is undergoing bacta treatments from the injuries he received from Kylo Ren, and any amount of hope that the Resistance has hinges on Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill, who turns in the performance of his career) coming back to the fold. Rey, Chewie, and R2D2 are off on an island on an uncharted world confronting Luke in the hopes that he will come back to civilization and lead the new rebellion in its struggle against the now unopposed tyranny of the First Order.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Speaking of the First Order, General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren are at odds with each other after the destruction of the powerful Starkiller Base, and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is not happy that his two subordinates have failed to find Skywalker, and have failed to end the resistance once and for all. In other words, everything is in chaos on every front.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi spends a good amount of time exploring all of this chaos as it establishes that the Resistance is on its last legs, and with the First Order in hot pursuit, ready to strike the killing blow, there may not be time for Luke to come save them. Rey finds Luke bitter and unwilling to help, and so she is tasked with trying to change his mind, all the while establishing who she is and her own place in the universe. And to further complete things, Kylo Ren feels a connection to her, and is able to communicate with her through the force, which confuses her more.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

All of this build up makes for a slow burn, with some silly bits and comedy thrown in to alleviate the pulsing drama unfolding onscreen. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the longest Star Wars film to date, and the first hour is a little slow as it establishes all these connections. That’s not to say there isn’t action or peril, but it’s not “Star Wars” quality action or peril. There’s never been this much “down time,” letting characters breathe and grow naturally, in a Star Wars film. All of the previous nine films (including Rogue One) were near relentless with their action. The Phantom Menace and The Force Awakens were both raging at break-neck speed, for good or bad. So, it was a bit of a shock to see writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) take the time for character establishment and to let the plot grow. Like a good literary novel, many different themes are explored and expounded on, some even questioning the very tenets of the Star Wars universe itself.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

All of that changes near the end of the second act, when the build up hits its payoff, and the novel-like approach becomes more like a roller coaster, and this point is the apex of the first major hill, right before the descent. What follows is 65-70 minutes of non-stop action, revelations, confrontations, and resolutions, good and bad. It is, by far, the best 70 minutes of Star Wars I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I even took a breath as the story played out. I could give you three spoilers right now, and there would STILL be stuff to discover as Johnson just pours it on. And the audience I was in ate it all up. There were gasps, laughs, and even some sobs, and Johnson and his cast still weren’t done.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi will undoubtedly be compared to the films that came before it, and fans will debate its place in the saga, but there has never been a Star Wars film like this. Rian Johnson has made the first, fully functioning epic Star Wars episode. One that draws inspiration from long-form literary novels and less on Flash Gordon serials from the 1940s. It is also a film that begs to be watched multiple times, just to take in and process everything that is happening. By the end of the film, everything is changed. Everything. And where the story goes next is anyone’s guess.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Star Wars is sacred to many people, and to my generation, and to generations that have come after, this is our shared fairy tale. George Lucas created something magical in the original trilogy, and then tried to ruin it with his prequels. This new trilogy has seen some familiarity, and now has its first solid, unequivocal win. Not everything works here, but what does work makes up for any shortcomings. Rian Johnson has already been announced as the spearhead on the next trilogy of Star Wars films, and if Star Wars: The Last Jedi is any indication of the direction he plans to take in telling us an epic, three-part Star Wars story, we are all in for something magical.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is rated PG-13 and is in theaters on December 15, with Thursday night screenings beginning on December 14.

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