After J.J. Abrams wowed audiences with 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, it seemed impossible that a sequel could be any better. However, director and writer Rian Johnson’s “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, has just beaten the odds by not only being a great sequel, but possibly the best entry in the “Star Wars” franchise.
Picking up immediately where “The Force Awakens” left off, “The Last Jedi” follows Rey (Daisy Ridley) as she attempts to persuade Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her as a Jedi before the evil First Order brings a swift end to the Resistance. Meanwhile, ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), hot-headed pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and newcomer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), construct a plan to escape and bring down the First Order.
Johnson’s writing excelled in this film, and in general, made great use of its 152 minute run time. However, there were some moments that felt a little too long or just downright boring. One subplot in particular, just seemed like unnecessary filler that could have been buffed out to make room for a far more interesting or compelling chapter in the story. Fortunately, the cast provided great segues to more interesting or relevant moments, while also giving some terrific performances along the way.
Rey and the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are the two leads of the film. In the previous installment, the two met very briefly before engaging in a lightsaber battle. In “The Last Jedi,” the two seem to share more than mere skill with an ancient weapon. They are telepathically linked through the force, meaning that they can communicate with each other, much like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are seen doing in the original trilogy. This provides an interesting relationship between the two characters and luckily Ridley and Driver are at the top of their acting game, ushering powerful and compelling performances, making the relationship all the more rich.
Mark Hamill has finally been given the spotlight in this sequel trilogy, and I cannot possibly describe how fantastic that is. The last time we saw Luke Skywalker (other than the short cameo at the end of “The Force Awakens”) he was just coming into his own as a Jedi Knight. He was wise beyond his years, agile, and full of spirit. But when we finally revisit him in this film, he has turned into a broken shell of his former self, suffocating under the burden of his failures. It’s a bold character arc, but nonetheless, Hamill crushes every moment of it. I’ve always been partial to Luke Skywalker, from the moment we met him in the original film, and after watching this installment, I can’t imagine having more respect for a character or actor.
This film also marked Carrie Fisher’s last after her tragic death in late 2016. Fisher reprises her role as General Leia, and she is full of wit, compassion, and also manages to steal one scene in a glorious fashion. She is given a lot more to do this time around compared to the previous film, and it filled me with a bittersweet feeling. No matter how much I enjoyed seeing her on screen one last time, it was that, and I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to our princess.
Other characters are given the spotlight sporadically throughout the film, which works wonderfully, most of the time. There were moments where I wanted the characters to stay on screen forever, but there were also many times when I wanted them off screen in favor of more interesting characters. Thankfully, these moments are rare and in general, I loved everything that the characters had to offer.
In addition to great writing and acting, this film was beautifully shot and looks terrific. There are all new worlds to discover this time around, and never before has Star Wars looked so unique. Plus, John Williams has returned to score the film, which provides an alluring soundtrack that isn’t merely wallpaper to the film, but an accent that helps solidify emotions on screen.
I feel confident in saying that this will be the most divisive Star Wars film yet. Plot threads introduced in “The Force Awakens” are either subtly solved or just thrown out all together, which fans will either love or hate. Some characters are given less screen time than in the previous film, or are just killed off unexpectedly. This film is full of loss and despair, but luckily, Johnson and the cast create enough lighthearted moments to stop the film from bogging itself down in darkness. It just goes to show that when it comes to a behemoth franchise such as this, there is no telling what they’ll do next.
“The Force Awakens” introduced us to a number of great characters and “The Last Jedi” managed to do what most sequels can’t. It expanded and improved them. It’s hard to see the studio topping this film when “Episode IX” hits theaters in 2019, but with any luck, some of the genius from “The Last Jedi” will seep into the sequel’s screenplay. Thanks to top notch directing, great acting, beautifully shot scenes, and wonderful music, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the best entry in the saga in years.