Movie Review: ‘STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI’ (2017) – The Future Of The Star Wars Universe?
If ‘The Force Awakens‘ was supposed to be a rehash of ‘A New Hope’, then ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ uses that very same expectation to surprise audiences by being completely counterintuitive to ‘Empire Strikes Back’.
‘The Last Jedi’ blends the best of Star Wars, and transitions into more dramatic, non-genre storytelling. There is a clear focus on immense character building, and not weighing itself down with universe building. The movie immerses itself further in the new characters that ‘The Force Awakens’ introduced, and cements their heroism in audience’s minds.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ truly passes the torch onto a new generation of characters, both in story, and for audiences of the franchise.
Starting off after the events of ‘The Force Awakens’, (My Movie Review here) ‘The Last Jedi’ showcases the remnants of the Republic in the form of the Resistance. With their numbers dwindling, one last effort sees them running from doom, as our heroes have to scramble to bring a source of hope back into the world; by finding Luke Skywalker.
With Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally coming face to face with a long missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hammil), she confronts the hard truth that her expectations may not align with Luke’s reality. Having to convince a weary Luke into rejoining the fight, while attempting to discover what led to his self exile, is Rey’s (and our) journey in this story.
While Finn (John Boyega) has to go on an adventure of his own to try to save the Resistance, along with newcomer to the franchise Rose, (Kelly Marie Tran) who brings a lot of heart to the story. Rose represents an element of Star Wars long since missing in the franchise; the fans themselves. While ‘The Force Awakens’ was said to be fan-service, it’s Rose’s interaction with these characters, her belief in the Resistance, that truly mirrors the way decades long fans feel about the Star Wars universe themselves.
While the Finn and Rose storyline is the most fun– rampaging through a casino frequented by the rich and immorally wealthy and participating in some light animal activism– it’s the one subplot that has the most problems. It feels unnecessary and goes against the time crunch that forces them onto the mission in the first place.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) supervises their mission from a Resistance ship in another example of being the impulsive hero who disobeys orders in order to do what he thinks is right. Poe once again gets shafted in terms of storyline and significance, and I’m hoping that he is of more importance in Episode 9. Carrie Fisher, while no longer with us, is a treat to watch in her final film appearance. Her chemistry with Poe also creates more depth for that character, and I hope that something comes from the lessons Poe learns from General Leia, that carries into the other films, despite her inevitable absence.
‘The Last Jedi’ is as much about continuing the story forward within the Star Wars universe, as it is about establishing itself as the new direction of the series, separating itself from the original and prequel trilogies. The film puts forth new ideas about existing concepts such as The Force, Light Side & the Dark Side, and the larger picture of the struggle between good and evil. The story forces (no pun intended) the audience to reassess what they thought they knew about this entire universe. The tonal shift is also evident. This new story strays so far from the originals that it even references many of the elements of the 6 films before it, while explaining and establishing a completely new perspective on them.
It feels at times that writer and director Rian Johnson set out to correct or enhance many of what was depicted in ‘The Force Awakens’, as well as revamp some concepts from the original franchise. Luke’s clarification of the Force, the importance, or lack there of, of Jedis in the world. Not to mention a startling revelation, acknowledging the hubris and convulated plans of the Jedi, which feels like a throwback reference to the many animated incarnations of the franchise.
Redemption and hope are very much the prevailing themes of ‘The Last Jedi’ as well, as Johnson calls back many of the scenes and dialogues from the original franchise. Rey’s hope for the ones around her. Luke’s fall and redemption. Even Kylo Ren is humanized to a point where his motivations are clearer than when he was first introduced. And speaking of Kylo Ren…
Adam Driver got a lot of screen time to brood and be menacing in his first appearance as the new villain in ‘The Force Awakens’. Driver’s range comes through in ‘The Last Jedi’, and he is allowed to showcase more of his talent (and abs) and has that much more impact. Giving one of the finer performances, Driver really fleshes out what was originally a very one dimensional villain, in a way that shakes the status quo of this new trilogy of films. The movie also takes its time in creating proper tension, and paying that off with satisfying resolutions to some storylines, while leaving others wide open. The story arcs of the new characters are tightened, their personalities and motivations revealed, and we’re given more reasons to be completely emotionally invested in their journey. The continuation of their stories causes excitement, without feeling like an intentional holding back of story beats, to be exploited in the future.
Gwendolyn Christie, however, remains a very one note side-villain. Her Captain Phasma has even less lines in ‘The Last Jedi’ than in ‘The Force Awakens’, and it’s baffling why an actress of her physical and emotional calibre is relegated to fight scenes in a bulky metal suit with her face covered. Domhnall Gleeson is much more animated this time around as General Hux, and provides some great comic relief. Laura Dern made a huge presence as one of the leaders of the Resistance, and on the business end of Poe’s disapproval. Benicio Del Toro is also wasted in a role that could have been easily portrayed by any up and coming new character actor,
‘The Last Jedi’ has a story that very much resonates with what the original trilogy was about. It’s amazing to think that, while ‘The Force Awakens’ was a blockbuster to unite new and loyal audiences behind a new franchise of films, ‘The Last Jedi’ does a much better job of bringing back the symbolism and allegorical nature of this epic space opera, that ‘Star Wars’ has always been about.
Rian Johnson elevates this new trilogy with a second chapter that has more substance than space battles, and leaves fan-service at the door, in order to create new moments that become memorable on their own for years to come. The film still features many enjoyable moments of humor, heart and even takes some tangents to showcase newer ideals within the Star Wars universe, such as the less fortunate being downtrodden by the powerful. It’s a great mirror to events today as well, without being preachy or feeling shoehorned. Johnson almost seems to be making a statement with this film, as he is able to tell a new Star Wars story that isn’t beholden to the originals through structure, narrative or formula. But rather, a completely new story that sets up the universe in a more comprehensive way, while investing us in these characters and their journeys.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ is a lot like ‘Empire Strikes Back’, in the sense that is a worthy successor to both the first films of their respective trilogies. The film is able to create compelling story arcs, with dramatic storytelling that doesn’t feel cheesy or outrageous, and blend performances with direction that excites and intrigues!