If there’s one thing we were all promised we would get with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s surprises. Much of the marketing campaign was built around the notion of “don’t let anyone spoil this”. Staying off of social media for a week and avoiding any conversations about the film with people definitely paid off for me, because the shocks are there, and it’s quite the entertaining roller coaster. The Last Jedi is the dazzling spectacle and the fanboy’s dream that was promised, and it also means a great deal to the Star Wars story and to our characters going forward.
Episode VIII, as we’ve all heard, picks up right where The Force Awakens left off. Rey has found Luke Skywalker, and the Resistance is still desperately fleeing from the First Order. (I’m trying to be as vague as possible in my description of the film as to avoid ruining reveals and major plot points for anybody.) The new trio of characters that was introduced in the last film is explored in greater detail, with more time dedicated to each hero and their own quest. Rey is still the lead protagonist, but The Last Jedi is much more of an ensemble piece than The Force Awakens was. We get to see Poe and BB-8 zooming around in some fast-paced space battles, Finn and his new mechanic friend, Rose, together on a mission, and, of course, Rey on a remote island with Luke, hoping to bring him back to assist the Resistance in their struggle.
Our new cast of characters that we met in The Force Awakens are just as lively and charismatic as they were in that film. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and Oscar Isaac breathed a new life into the franchise with their likeability and their chemistry with one another, and all of them are just as good, if not better, in this film. They all have their moments of humor, too, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it gives the movie the lighthearted spirit it needs at times. We’re also introduced to the aforementioned Rose, played by Kelly Marie Tran, a mechanic with a backstory and a reason to fight, not just a shoehorned character. Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, Poe’s new superior who he doesn’t get along with very well, which makes for some excellent tension between the two that sometimes played for comedy and sometimes takes a more dramatic turn. Rounding out the new major supporting characters, there’s DJ, a code breaker played by Benicio del Toro, who did feel like a bit of a throwaway character. I’ll get into that more later, though.
While Han was the most prominently featured original cast member in The Force Awakens, both Leia and her brother Luke are given plenty of time to shine in The Last Jedi. The late Carrie Fisher, in her final film role, gives a fantastic performance, as does Mark Hamill as a grizzled and grumpy Luke Skywalker, in what might just be the best performance he’s ever given. His character’s relationship with Rey is fun to watch, and it’s classic Star Wars writing.
The dynamic between Rey and Kylo Ren is another relationship that gives this movie an incredible complexity. They have scenes together that honestly gave me chills because it’s so well written, and the conflict between the two (and also the internal struggle within each one of them) is fascinating and adds depth and a feeling of emotional intensity to the story.
Even with that depth and complexity, the film still features the exhilarating Star Wars action that we all love and that we’ve been looking forward to ever since the end of Episode VII. We get to be a part of everything from the expansive space battles to the more personal, one-on-one combat. The Last Jedi is packed with excitement, and some of it is some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie, hands down, and that’s thanks to the immersive cinematography, believable fight choreography, and gorgeous, practical art design, all things that the prequels seriously lacked and that J.J. Abrams reintroduced to the saga with his installment.
Our characters visit a few vibrant and interesting new worlds, as expected in a Star Wars film, and some are better than others. Ahch-To, the planet Rey discovered Luke on, is populated by a variety of new alien creatures (including Porgs, the small puffin-like creatures that thankfully aren’t annoying like I feared). Crait, my favorite of the new planets, is a mineral planet with a flat, salty surface and a bright red layer underneath. It’s a gorgeous setting, and the battles that take place there are some of the most breathtaking, simply because of the visuals alone.
Finn and Rose visit the casino city of Canto Bight, located on the planet Cantonica (I had to look the name up), which is yet another exotic location filled with life and possibility, but it’s also my biggest issue with the film. For a few sequences lasting about thirty minutes altogether, Finn and Rose explore the strange city in search of something, but it hardly mattered to the plot at all and it was difficult to get invested in that subplot. This is where Benicio del Toro’s character comes in, and while his performance was fine, he added virtually nothing to the story. The sequence also didn’t feel all that much like Star Wars. I told a family member I saw the film with that I thought it belonged in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and it’s easily the most prequel-ish aspect of the movie. Every time it cut to them on Canto Bight, I just wanted to get back to Rey and Luke, or Poe and the Resistance, but it kept going on and I feel it overstayed its welcome.
This is the longest Star Wars film by a few minutes (It runs 153 minutes, while Attack of the Clones was 142), and I felt it sometimes. The last half of the movie is much smoother, much more fast-paced, and overall much better written. If it weren’t for the Canto Bight sequence, it would have been the perfect length, the story would have been just a bit tighter, and I would have walked out of the theater even more enthusiastic.
That’s not saying I wasn’t gushing about the movie the rest of the night and most of the day after. As a Star Wars fan, The Last Jedi is everything I wanted, and I didn’t even know I wanted some of it. Rian Johnson has made the most different Star Wars film yet, both in tone and storytelling, and also in the direction it takes its storyline and characters. I was surprised by—yet extremely satisfied with—how everything came together, how questions we had from the previous installment were resolved, and how new ones arose. The “wait for VIII” is over, and it was well worth it.
— Camden McDonald