It’s safe to say that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” directed by Rian Johnson, was easily one of 2017’s most anticipated movies. “The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, left audiences with a million questions, a whole new set of characters and absolutely no answers for anything. Fans spent two years asking questions and developing theories: Who are Rey’s parents? Who is Snoke? Why did Kylo Ren turn to the Dark Side?
And, perhaps, most importantly: What happened to Luke Skywalker?
“The Force Awakens” had to bear the heavy burden of having to live up to being the next in a huge franchise. Even worse, the prequels are known and accepted to be generally awful. Creating an original Star Wars story meant running the risk of erring too far on the prequel side of fan hatred, so, as a result, the film drew heavily from “A New Hope,” borrowing story beats and plot points so often that it was easy to predict where the movie was going go. I mean, another Death Star? Come on.
However, despite these shortcomings, the film succeeded in enchanting a whole new generation (and the older generations, too) with a cast of characters journeying across the stars in order to try and save a galaxy or two.
“The Last Jedi” answers the most pressing questions fans were left with after its predecessor, but not the way you expect. Certainly not with the most popular fan theories, either. Instead, the film takes Star Wars theory and lore in a new direction. The force is used inventively, as well as calling back to the classic motions.
The film opens with the Rebellion forced to make an evacuation from their home base: the First Order has just arrived with cannons. After a brief and funny exchange between pilot extraordinaire Poe Dameron and an exceptionally pasty General Hux, a squad of bombers attempt to take out a larger First Order warship during the escape.
Despite receiving orders to retreat from General Leia Organa, Poe disregards her and continues on with the mission. While they succeed and destroy the warship, it comes at a steep cost; the entire bomber fleet is destroyed. Leia demotes Poe, and the Rebellion activates lightspeed and escapes. That is, until they find out the First Order has the technology to follow them through lightspeed.
“The Last Jedi” follows four separate storylines: the Rebellion; Finn and new character Rose Tico; Kylo Ren and Snoke; and, lastly, Rey and Luke. At times, the film feels fractured and busy. There were several moments when I thought the movie had ended only to realize they were in fact setting up for another portion of the story. However, the film’s strongest moments make up for this entirely.
“The Force Awakens” ends with protagonist Rey arriving on Ahch-too, the planet where Luke Skywalker has been in hiding ever since Kylo Ren destroyed his Jedi temple and joined the First Order. She hands Luke his lightsaber, lost in the iconic “Empire Strikes Back” scene where Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand and, in the same motion, reveals that they are father and son. Luke says nothing, and the two years between the end of “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” were spent furiously wondering what Luke would say to Rey after so many years. Would he embrace her? Would he become her teacher? Maybe explain himself?
No. Instead, Luke takes the lightsaber and tosses it off the cliff behind him. Then he shuts himself in his island hut like the grumpy hermit he’s become. It’s shocking, but also hilarious. It’s an immediate subversion of the audience’s expectations, essentially laughing in the face of everyone who theorized about this meeting for years. Depending on what you wanted to get out of the film, this probably made it or broke it for you. (“The Last Jedi” is quickly becoming the most polarizing Star Wars movie among fans.)
The relationship between Luke and Rey is fascinating. It’s interestingly equal parts antagonistic and trusting. Rey just discovered she’s force sensitive but can’t control it, while Luke bears the shame of what happened at the Jedi temple with Kylo several years earlier. It’s not the Yoda/Luke dynamic fans were expecting in the least. In fact, there’s very little training that goes on over the course of the film.
The entirety of “The Last Jedi” happens over the course of, at most, a couple days. The two-and-a-half-hour film is squeezed into the desperate time frame of the Rebellion’s fraught escape from the First Order. This storyline follows Poe Dameron and General Holdo, who has taken over Leia’s command for the time being. Holdo doesn’t trust Poe after his stunt with the bombers at the beginning of the film, and Poe thinks Holdo doesn’t have the Rebellion’s best interests at heart.
The primary conflict between Poe and Holdo is a lack of communication; the audiences dislikes her because they are privy to Poe’s side of things and not hers. It’s a classic bait-and-switch tactic that falls a little flat during the reveal that Holdo’s had a good plan the entire time. Her subsequent heroic sacrifice, though an incredible scene to watch (she solo-pilots a ship at lightspeed through the First Order’s massive vessel, and the entire scene is silent), rings a little hollow. There’s not much reason to care about Holdo’s death in the name of the Rebellion.
Perhaps the weakest part of the film is Finn and Rose Tico’s side mission to Canto Bight. They’ve put together a ramshackle plan to find a master codebreaker that can sneak them onto the First Order’s ship and disable the generator that tracks the Rebellion through lightspeed. The most interesting part of the mission is the reveal that Canto Bight is full of rich socialites who’ve gained their riches by selling weapons to both the First Order and the Rebellion. The trip widens the scope of the universe, providing different perspectives and even dipping a toe into issues of the military industrial complex, slavery and animal abuse.
Unfortunately, Rose and Finn’s trip ultimately accomplishes nothing and doesn’t drive the story forward. They don’t find the master codebreaker they were looking for, but happen upon someone else coincidentally that can perform the task. Then, they are arrested aboard the First Order ship and never succeed in disabling the generator powering the lightspeed locator. Unless their brief skirmish on Canto Bight has a bigger pay-off in the next movie, I wish Finn and Rose had been used somewhere else more effectively.
Hands down, one of the strongest scenes in the film takes place in Snoke’s throne room. Kylo Ren and Rey have been sharing some kind of force psychic connect throughout the movie. Rey believes she saw a vision of the future where Kylo Ren returns to the Light. She goes to meet him, and ends up ensnared by Snoke, with Kylo Ren acting as a dutiful servant.
Snoke reveals he used the force to create the link between Rey and Kylo Ren, manipulating them into thinking they could trust the other. After forcibly extracting Luke Skywalker’s location from Rey’s mind, Snoke orders Kylo Ren to kill her.
There’s a tense, drawn-out scene where Snoke raves about his ultimate power, his complete surety that Kylo Ren is his disciple. You can see the twist coming from a mile away, but that makes it no less enjoyable. The battle between Snoke’s guards and Rey and Kylo Ren is amazing, illustrating the capability of what could happen if the Light and Dark sides work together. However, Snoke’s death renders the mystery behind his origin moot. Kylo Ren takes his place as Supreme Leader of the First Order.
It’s at this point (and several others) that the movie feels like it’s come a natural end. The run time for “The Last Jedi” clocks in at just about two and a half hours. It’s the longest Star Wars movie, and certainly feels like it. The last half hour of the film is yet another battle between the First Order and the Rebellion on the salt planet Crate.
The most remarkable scene during this battle is the long-awaited confrontation between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker, ending in a minor success for the Rebellion, whose numbers have dwindled enough for them to fit in the Millenium Falcon and escape.
“The Last Jedi” was a fun new addition to the Star Wars universe. The CGI and cinematography were breathtaking, making it easy to overlook the thinner parts of the plot. After the death of Carrie Fisher, it’s interesting to see how “Episode 9” will play out. The movie firmly concluded on a note of hope that promised a bigger role for Fisher in the next movie. Fans are speculating that there will be a significant time jump between the two films. The question is, what will happen to our heroes next?