A Spoiler-Filled Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The Last Jedi’s biggest success is just how unpredictable it is. Writer-director Rian Johnson takes the Star Wars saga into an all-new territory. Those who complained that The Force Awakens cribbed too much from A New Hope won’t have much to whine about here. Johnson’s film is unlike any other in the series. There are touchstones, of course. There’s an understanding that the past is important, yet the creed of the film is one of embracing the new and looking forward.
No matter if you’ve seen a trailer for the film or not, you’re going to come into the film with preconceived ideas. The prequels planted a notion of ‘rhyming’ in the series—Luke and Anakin’s journeys hit similar beats, and they lose the same limb in their respective trilogies. The Force Awakens only emphasizes this; Rey is the new Luke, it seems, both coming from a desert planet and both trying to find their place in the galaxy.
Coming into The Last Jedi, you’d expect it to mirror The Empire Strikes Back in some respects, but, oh boy, it’s very clear that this isn’t the same old Star Wars. One of the biggest mysteries in the new trilogy is the identity of Rey’s parents. There’ve been theories linking her parentage to Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han, Snoke, or even Palpatine. Much like how Luke tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder when he meets Rey in the film, Johnson tosses any theories out the window and gives Rey and the audience an answer that was wholly unexpected. Her parents were nobodies, nobody special; it’s the complete inverse of “I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, and that’s the brilliance of The Last Jedi. In defying expectations, the film is perhaps the most enthralling chapter in the series.
In being the second film of a new trilogy, you’d expect most of the heroes to survive for the third, and presumably final, film. The Last Jedi makes you sweat it out, though; you don’t know who exactly makes it out alive as the fate of the Resistance is on the line from the opening moments. The Last Jedi once again shows the importance of the Resistance—the band of rebels fighting against The First Order. If we ever needed heroes to look up to, it’s now, and the film gives us plenty to root for. It’s a life and death struggle, and Johnson emphasis this with the fate of Paige, a gunner for the Resistance who makes the ultimate sacrifice during the opening battle.
In a brilliantly-constructed sequence, in which Johnson adds his signature, indie vibrancy, Paige has to drop a bomb payload on a First Order Star Destroyer. Her ship is the last one that’s able to deliver a deadly blow that would give the Resistance enough time to escape. The tension mounts as the button to release the hundreds of explosives is out of her grasp until the very last moment, and her and her ship get caught in the subsequent explosion. It’s a death that immediately stings, and turns out to be a defining moment in all of Star Wars as we later meet Paige’s sister, Rose.
The heart of The Last Jedi is actress Kelly Marie Tran and her character Rose. She befriends Finn (John Boyega) and they go to a casino city of Canto Bight on Cantonica in a mission to save the Resistance. The city is run is controlled by the rich, as they gamble away credits and bet on races of huge horse-like creatures called fathiers. Rose and Finn see the poor being mistreated by the rich weapons dealers, who are only getting richer thanks to the war. Rose says this injustice is happening not just here, but everywhere in the universe, everyone is under the boot of The First Order, in one way or another. It’s thanks to her that this detour in the film’s narrative doesn’t feel like a waste; our heroes, in an effort to escape from Canto Bright police, release a pack of fathiers. Rose and Finn ride one, and with Rose in command, they create a path of destruction, laying waste to the casino city. It’s a cathartic, eat-the-rich sequence that doesn’t immediately have a huge impact to the plot, until that final scene when there’s a remarkable payoff, which serves as a cliffhanger for the next film.
Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is another key to why the Resistance is smartly handled here. Holdo takes command of the band of heroes trying to escape The First Order, and Poe Dameron doesn’t think she’s up to the task. Oscar Isaac continues to be another welcome addition; he plays the hotheaded, instinctual fighter pilot with enough charisma to keep him from being grating. Poe and Holdo butt heads, each thinking they have the best way to save the Resistance. Ultimately, they’re fighting for the same goal, something that’s heartbreakingly clear as Holdo’s true motives are revealed and she contributes to a jaw-dropping moment in the film.
When you think Holdo has turned on the Resistance, Poe comes to find out she’s been trying to get the surviving rebels to a secret hideout on the planet Crait. Holdo is the only one left on the Resistance starship, as smaller escape vessels make their escape. In a top-tier hero moment, Holdo turns the big ship around and plows right into The First Order, using lightspeed to slice through the enemy fleet. The work of cinematographer Steve Yedlin (who has worked on all of Johnson’s films) has to be praised here—he, Johnson, and the creative team pull off a visual so beautiful, tragic, and powerful in scope, that it’ll stand out as an all-timer in Star Wars lore. The sound drops as we see The First Order torn apart in massive, gorgeous wide shots of the chaos.
Holdo’s sacrifice is only made more the painful thanks to her connection to General Leia Organa. Since Carrie Fisher’s passing last year, the biggest question has been how The Last Jedi would deal with Leia. To say the least, each and every scene she’s in is an emotional one. Knowing this is the last time we’ll see a full performance from Fisher as Leia, each word holds more weight. The first act rug-pull of Leia being sucked into space is soul-crushing, and the twist of her using the Force to bring her back aboard the ship is yet another example of Johnson defying expectations. We’ve never seen the Force used as powerfully as this by the General, which raises another mystery of how that’ll affect Rey and the fate of the Jedi. But one fact is clear: Leia is all powerful, which should come as no surprise to an Star Wars fan.
Leia is the elder beacon of hope. By the end, she’s the one giving Rey encouragement, saying the Resistance doesn’t need a broken lightsaber to fight The First Order, all they need is Rey. It’s in knowing when to fight and when to make the ultimate sacrifice that plays heavily into the Resistance’s cause. In the final battle, when it looks like Finn is about to give up his life in the fight, Rose risks her life to save him. She gives him a kiss after he pulls her out of the wreckage, but his saving wasn’t because she had a crush on him. She already lost someone who she cared about, and she won’t let that happen again. We need each other in this long fight against the darkness. Rey’s story runs in parallel of this, as she searches for someone to help her in her journey.
Kylo Ren, after being beaten by Rey in The Force Awakens, is still tending to his wounds as his master, Supreme Leader Snoke berates him for his failure. Rey, as she tries to convince Luke to train her in the ways of the Jedi, has visions of Ren, who’s lightyears away, and speaks to him by way of the Force. Ren convinces her that he has some good in him, which is all Rey needs to hear. Luke warns her, but once the truth of Ren and Luke’s divide years ago comes to light, Rey goes to Ren seeking an ally.
In a powerful performance, Mark Hamill plays Luke as a broken old man. The weight of Ren’s turn to the dark side has turned him into a hermit, hiding on Ahch-To, the island where the Jedi began. We’ve been told since The Force Awakens that Ren betrayed Luke and destroyed the new Jedi Order. But Ren says it was Luke who betrayed Ren. The truth is somewhere in the middle, as Rey confronts Luke in one of the film’s most tense moments. Luke says there was split second thought in his mind to kill Ren, but quickly thought better, but it was too late. This was all Ren needed to show is true nature.
With Luke alone once again, he goes to the first Jedi temple to burn it down, but low and behold, his old master Yoda returns to give him words of wisdom. Out of all the surprises in The Last Jedi, this is the one that rises to the top that’ll surely please long-time fans. Gone is the all-CGI creature we saw in the prequels. The Frank Oz-voiced beloved character here is a practical effect. While the film marks out new stories for its characters, it still respects the past. Yoda comforts Luke, saying that masters must learn that their apprentices will outgrow them. The Force Awakens embraced the past by repeating it (in a super entertaining way), but The Last Jedi isn’t scared to move forward, leaving the past behind.
Ren captures Rey, and it all seems to go down as a trick played by Snoke; the powerful Sith was the one connecting both of them, leading Rey into Snoke’s hands. But, in a sequence that is akin to Return of the Jedi, Ren turns on Snoke (Darth Maul-ing him in a spectacular fashion), and joins with Rey to fight the red guards in a kick-ass action sequence. But it was all part of Ren’s plan to rule the galaxy; he extends his hand to Rey, like Darth Vader to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back, asking her to rule beside him. She refuses, leading to the final battle on Crait. Adam Driver’s multi-leveled performance is a sight to see here. Again, like much of The Last Jedi, Johnson defies expectations and doesn’t make Kylo Ren a typical villain. He is not control of his power and emotions as Darth Vader was, behind it all he’s still a petulant child.
The finale with The First Order fighting the Resistance on Crait is the point in the film that might have you going, “How much is too much Star Wars?”. Your mileage may vary, but the final thirty minutes help expand the epic scope of the story rather than dragging things out to an uncomfortable level. We get Luke and Leia finally reuniting in a beautifully-shot scene where they say their goodbyes (tears will roll aplenty). Then Luke has his greatest hero moment, proving once again that the Force can accomplish the unimaginable. He faces off with Ren in another well-choreographed lightsaber duel, but when it looks like Luke will be cut down like his first mentor, Obi-Wan, it turns out his physical self never left the island. His non-physical presence is on Crait, powered by the Force. Luke, after using all of his power to keep Ren and The First Order’s eyes off the Resistance and on him, picks himself up to see the twin suns in the horizon. It’s a callback to his beginning in A New Hope, and it’s the final image he sees before disappearing, become one with the Force. It’s worthy send-off for one of cinema’s greatest characters.
The Last Jedi is an emotional experience from beginning to end. Rian Johnson both respects characters new and old, while also carrying the story to new heights. It’s a movie filled with hope and humanity. In the film’s final moment, kids working in the lower-class recount the story of Luke’s sacrifice, and then one of them uses the force to move a broom ever-so slightly. The sparks of the Resistance extend across the universe, and the Force is still strong with those who seek it. It’s a chapter in the story that resolves plenty, while also leaving you wanting Episode IX to see the end of this part of the saga. Serving not just as fan service, The Last Jedi is a daring, emotional, and fun adventure that carves out new paths for the franchise.