This is not going to go the way you think.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, also known as Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, is written and directed by Rian Johnson and stars Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Anthony Daniels, and Gwendoline Christie who all reprise their roles from The Force Awakens. Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, and Benicio del Toro also star. The film is dedicated in memory of Carrie Fisher who died in December 2016, making this her final performance.
When The Force Awakens hit theaters back in December 2015, it broke almost every box office record imaginable and won the adoration of people, Star Wars fan or not, worldwide. It gave longtime fans nostalgic satisfaction from seeing old characters back in action, while also infusing the franchise with new life blood by bringing in a bunch of fresh faces. And when all was said and done in Episode VII, the franchise was left at a series of crossroads, having the opportunity to go a multitude of ways, which naturally lent itself to two years of questioning, theorizing, and debating about what direction the story should go next. This left The Last Jedi with a lot of weight on its shoulders, even though it was not going to bring closure to the story of the new trilogy, because we still have an Episode IX to prepare for.
In August 2014, Rian Johnson confirmed that he would be directing Episode VIII, commenting on how much he loved watching the older Star Wars movies and playing with all of the toys when he was a little kid. He had his story group watch older films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Twelve O'Clock High in order to find inspiration for developing good ideas, which speaks to me of Johnson tapping into Star Wars' inspiration from films of all different categories and genres. From what I know about Johnson's previous films, it's that he never lets storytelling take a backseat to everything else that's going on, with The Last Jedi being no exception. If you had to ask me, I would tell you that the story is the most crucial part of The Last Jedi, which I'll get to in good time.
One thing about Star Wars that people don't pay too much attention to is how the saga has little to no hesitation towards killing off major characters, with at least one major character dying in each episode except, surprisingly, The Empire Strikes Back. Now, mind you, Star Wars doesn't always ax off its characters in an unexpected and heartbreaking Game of Thrones fashion, but the point being is that one oughtn't go into each Star Wars episode expecting everyone to survive or at least get through the entire episode unscathed. As the franchise focuses on the adventures of characters "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away", some characters must go as new ones are brought in. This is where I ask, how many human characters have appeared in all eight episodes of Star Wars? I do believe the answer is zero. For the sake of telling a meaningful story, certain characters are going to die, whether you love them or not.
As for the plot, specifics I think are best left untold, but here's what I'll share with you: The First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke, are in pursuit of the main base of the Resistance fighters, who are led by General Leia Organa. Meanwhile, Rey, having found Luke Skywalker on an island on the planet Ahch-To at the end of The Force Awakens, tries to convince him to come and help the Resistance in their fight against the First Order. Rey also desires to learn more about the ways of The Force, but Luke, conflicted over certain events in the past, is unwilling to teach her.
I'm aware that I have yet to talk about if I actually thought The Last Jedi was good or not. It is good, really good. I'd say it's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Whereas The Force Awakens found a lot of its success in declaring to the world the epic return of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi triumphs in taking this new trilogy in some unexpected directions while continuing to honor the rich history of the Star Wars universe, taking on the seemingly impossible task of expanding upon what has been presented to us in the first seven episodes while also leaving us hungry for more.
- From Daisy Ridley to Adam Driver to John Boyega, every significant actor here is once again great. However, it's Mark Hamill who steals the show. This is easily his best portrayal of Luke Skywalker, showing us how Luke has now become a troubled Jedi Master, haunted by mistakes and decisions he made before. This is a major departure from the more upbeat and optimistic Luke Skywalker seen in the original trilogy, as he now represents more of a cynical curmudgeon. He works splendidly alongside Daisy Ridley, with the two displaying an old teacher, young pupil relationship in line with the likes of The Karate Kid.
- The Last Jedi has a much darker tone than The Force Awakens, so it's sort of surprising to acknowledge how funny it actually is. Rey and Luke have several humorous exchanges in the midst of their conversations, Finn and Poe are funny, and even Leia chips in some funny lines. And the best part is, not for a single second does the film come off as tongue in cheek and never does it sacrifice the pacing or momentum for the sake of a joke.
- So the acting, action, and humor are all great, but where The Last Jedi truly succeeds is in its gutsy storytelling. Rian Johnson shows a willingness to avert audience expectations and give the story the twists and turns it needs to not only surprise audiences, but bring even more intrigue to the overall narrative. He doesn't shock us for the sole purpose of shocking us; he shocks us to add a new wrinkle to the way that Star Wars is presented. If we didn't learn enough from The Empire Strikes Back, then The Last Jedi will hammer it home that Star Wars is a franchise that transcends beyond a simple battle of good vs. evil by showing us good-nature characters who wrestle with their darker instincts as well as villains who still have a modicum of empathy buried inside. After all, aren't some of the best heroes and villains the ones who struggle with an inner turmoil that makes them seem more human?
- The Force Awakens struggled with being derivative of the original trilogy, and the same is sort of true with The Last Jedi, with certain scenes and moments looking imitative of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The fact that this problem has sprung up again leads me to believe that an underlying goal of everyone working on the sequel trilogy is to recapture a lot of the joy and success of the original trilogy, even though several plot elements can be pointed at by hardcore Star Wars buffs and say, "Hey, that looks like that came right out of [insert original trilogy movie here]!" So is it safe to assume that Episode IX is going to be another Return of the Jedi?
The other thing about The Last Jedi that pleases me is that it removes freakin' Attack of the Clones as the longest Star Wars film when looking strictly at running time. 152 minutes certainly sounds like a long time, but The Last Jedi features enough excitement and narrative heft to make for a fast-paced 152 minutes. It's a well-rounded film that leaves Episode IX with even more weight on its shoulders, because now comes the task of bringing this new chapter in the Star Wars saga to a fitting conclusion. For now though, we can all be happy that Rian Johnson has delivered what is the best Star Wars episode since The Empire Strikes Back, featuring great performances, especially from Mark Hamill, more eye-popping action, and a narrative direction that will inevitably bring more theories and excitement for what will happen the next time around.
Recommend? Yes. It's best enjoyed after seeing the original trilogy and The Force Awakens.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: