Written by Tim Estiloz
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a magnificent, wildly exhilarating and visually spectacular film that stands as one of the best in the entire long-running interstellar franchise. “The Last Jedi” not only retains much that is familiar to fans devoted to this iconic series of films; but also, this latest installment infuses a refreshing new direction where the overall narrative is delightfully unpredictable and surprising with its twists and turns.
Just as the very first 1977 Star Wars film chapter was subtitled “A New Hope”, “The Last Jedi” brings new hope in its own right with its vibrant vision, character evolution and spectacular visual sequences.
“The Last Jedi” encompasses three expertly interwoven storylines. The first involves a desperate race for survival as the remnants of the rebel fleet under the command of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher in her final, but superbly complete and satisfying performance) attempt to escape the pursuing First Order’s fleet of ships under the command of the evil Supreme Leader Snoke. The rebel ships are running out of fuel as Snoke, and his protege and heir apparent to Darth Vader, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) relentlessly close in for the final kill.
Meanwhile, former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and a new Resistance mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) leave the embattled fleet on an unsanctioned undercover mission. Their goal is to find a way to thwart the enemy’s ability to follow and ultimately destroy the increasingly diminishing Resistance fleet that’s under constant attack.
The third storyline in the film, and arguably the most pivotal, is the interaction taking place across the galaxy on a far, far away planet between potential future Jedi, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the iconic former Jedi master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) now a recluse wanting to forget the Jedi ways and let the Jedi religion fade into oblivion.
Their initially tumultuous relationship picks up at the exact moment where the previous Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens” ended, with Rey handing Luke his long lost Jedi light saber. Luke’s subsequent responsive action is both hilarious yet indicative of his feeling that the glory days of the Jedi are a distant, almost forgotten memory.
However, Rey persists in attempting to recruit Luke back into the battle by telling him his power and leadership is needed to help the Resistance survive. Rey also needs Luke to help her understand the confusing and bewildering Jedi-like feelings and power she believes is growing within her. Reluctantly, Luke agrees to train her to a point.
“The Last Jedi” brings multiple exciting new facets to each of its characters. Via the screenplay and direction of Rian Johnson, characters old and new, get to explore new direction, depth and greater nuance in this film. Johnson is also not afraid to enhance the ability of those using The Force in ways not seen before.
Key among those new elements is an ongoing trans-galactic ability for Kylo Ren and Rey to communicate face-to-face as each tries to convince the other to turn from their chosen side of The Force and join the other at the opposite extreme.
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker is a revelation in this film. No longer is he the fresh-faced young Jedi filled with hope and optimism. Instead, Hamill’s now older, disillusioned and somewhat embittered Jedi master, is a character filed with unexpected intensity. Hamill’s Luke Skywalker now possesses a weighty gravitas, world-weariness and guilt over past deeds that is quite impressive and delightfully new to see him portray.
Overall the entire cast delivers impressive performances, including Laura Dern as General Leia’s equally strong-willed and formidable successor in command. Even the tiny wide-eyed, intentionally cute and merchandising friendly Porg creatures tend to grow on you, albeit in limited doses.
The jaw-dropping visual feast that makes up the film’s finale raises the bar for spectacle in a Star Wars film. From the final light saber battles involving Rey and Kylo Ren and the dazzling siege on the last Resistance refuge by the attacking First Order, to the climatic mano a mano duel between Luke and Kylo Ren; the film leaves the audience with dazzling imagery and sequences that will linger in memory long after the credits roll.
“The Last Jedi” is a wonderfully impressive mix of old and new elements and evolving characters that elevates it to stellar status in the Star Wars pantheon. Indeed, the film is so amazingly satisfying by its final scenes, ending the journey for some while introducing a new journey for others, that this film could easily stand alone as the final Star Wars film in the franchise.
Thankfully, that’s not the case, as it also gives us an energized new hope and excitement for the story to truly move forward to amazing new heights with the inevitable next installment.
The next film can’t come soon enough.