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In 2015, the Star Wars franchise returned with The Force Awakens, the seventh film in the series and the beginning of a new trilogy. It brought back familiar faces and used them to introduce new characters like heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The new characters were integrated into the mythology in a film that bore striking similarities to the first Star Wars film while still creating its own story. Now that story takes center-stage in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.
When we last left her, Rey had begun to discover her own latent Jedi powers after a battle with Han Solo and Princess Leia’s son, the Darth Vader-esque Kylo Ren. The film ended after she had located the reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who had been hiding on a hard to find planet.
As The Last Jedi begins, Rey is trying to convince Luke to rejoin the rebellion. This leads to conversation about the force and what it means to be a Jedi. Most significantly, Luke’s history with Kylo Ren changes Rey’s own feelings about the former Ben Solo and leads her to actions that will have a huge impact on the rest of the series.
That is one of three major storylines this film juggles. Another involves Finn and mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) as they travel to a casino planet to look for a codebreaker who can help the rebels escape from the First Order. The third focuses on Poe’s clashes with leadership (including Carrie Fisher’s Leia and Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo) as they argue over how to protect everyone under their command.
These stories are complex which, unfortunately, means the first half is pretty slow and some of it feels unnecessary. Specifically, the trip to the casino planet. It introduces the idea of class divide, but does not do anything with it. It is likely a setup for future films, but that does not make it interesting here. Additionally, large sections of Rey’s interaction with Luke feel redundant. That subplot could have been truncated without losing any of its importance.
All that being said, once everything kicks into gear in the second half, it becomes the fun, high octane adventure expected from this series.
This entry was written/directed by Rian Johnson (who has been given his own Star Wars spinoff trilogy) and he has been allowed some leeway with the material (both The Force Awakens and the next film in the series were/will be written/directed by Jewish writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams, who served as an executive producer on The Last Jedi). A major complaint after The Force Awakens was how closely the film followed the structure of A New Hope. Coming into The Last Jedi, I was curious how reminiscent it would be of The Empire Strikes Back. As it turns out, kind of.
Johnson cleverly introduces thematic references to the earlier film and then deconstructs them. Do not get me wrong; The Last Jedi is every bit a Star Wars movie, not an art film. However, he does turn some of those ideas upside down, bringing up new possibilities.
The Last Jedi is very good. After one viewing, I feel comfortable calling it one of the best in the series. It has its issues, but overall is entertaining, exciting and perhaps the most thought-provoking of the franchise. Generally speaking, I am interested in the next Star Wars film just because I have enjoyed most of them. In this case, I am genuinely intrigued by the direction of the story.
4 out of 5
By Ben Pivoz
Ben’s Movie Reviews