'Star Wars: The Last Jedi': Taking the saga in unexpected directions | Review
The eighth chapter in the Star Wars saga is the first to pick up immediately where its predecessor left off. The First Order has discovered the location of the Resistance base on D'Qar, causing the Resistance's meager remaining resources to flee. While Poe, Finn, BB-8 and new friend Rose hatch a plan to cripple the First Order -- and its Supreme Leader, Snoke -- from within, Rey finally meets Luke Skywalker. However, the latter refuses to train Rey, sensing in her a power rivaling that of Luke's greatest failure: Kylo Ren. While General Leia races against time to save the Resistance, Luke and Rey are forced to confront everything they thought they knew about the ways of the Force.
Star Wars: Episode VIII -- The Last Jedi is a perfectly fine, well-made movie. Writer/Director Rian Johnson is an old pro at melding sci-fi with action, and scale with emotion. Despite being the longest Star Wars movie, the movie is well-paced, with some wonderful visuals and moments of levity. I just hated the story that it told. Those who complained about The Force Awakens being too derivative of the original Star Wars will find that The Last Jedi is essentially a remake of The Empire Strikes Back, with one crucial scene lifted almost verbatim from Return of the Jedi. Johnson seems to want to simultaneously honor the past slavishly, while anarchically tearing it down, and the combination doesn't work. Key plot points that were set up in the previous movie are not answered here, nor does the story resolve itself in such a way that these answers could come down the road. They won't. Characters are also given short shrift, both new ones and old friends. Most of them end up exactly where they were at the start of the movie, with nothing having changed. Key moments that should have saga-defining importance are undercooked. Humor is forced in at every turn, despite the movie telling an inherently darker, more foreboding tale than anything we've had since Revenge of the Sith. And ultimately, what's most puzzling is that the movie is very much a conclusion. It's an ending in many ways. Episode VIII does a lot of the work we would've expected to see in Episode IX, begging the question: "What does that movie even have left to do?" Or another, more interesting question: "Maybe these Episodes will no longer happen as trilogies?" Johnson is a self-proclaimed fan of all things Star Wars, including the dreaded Prequels. So I knew things might get weird here. But this movie will divide fans and general audiences alike. Nothing about Star Wars is the same after this movie. It's hard to get into specifics without ruining the movie. Stay tuned to Nerd It Here First in the coming days for a "Spoiler Discussion" about The Last Jedi.
The big draw is obviously Mark Hamill, who we finally get to hear speak for the first time in nearly 35 years. The performance is good, with Hamill conveying the world-weariness of the last Jedi without losing the twinkle in his eye that made Luke such a likable character in the first place. In her final performance, Carrie Fisher hits it out of the park, making Leia a strong leader without letting her lose her vulnerability. Returning friends like Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac are all fine, as are Adam Driver and Domhnall Gleeson on the baddies' side. Newcomers are all solid additions, with Kelly Marie Tran as Rose making the biggest impression. Star Wars nerds will know Benicio Del Toro was originally meant to be Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, so seeing him here is kind of nice, even though his is a thankless role.
Visual effects are good, although a chase sequence on the casino planet Canto Bight looks worse than anything in the Prequels. The movie was shot on film by Steve Yedlin, but you wouldn't know it from the final product. Until the finale, nearly everything is bright and glossy. Production and costume design work is strong, with a lot of work reminding me of Coruscant in the Prequels. John Williams' score isn't as good as it was for The Force Awakens, but it's still great to hear the old themes again at key moments. A new theme, for the character Rose, is also sweet. As far as Oscar consideration goes, the movie's best bet is still visual effects, with possible nods for Costume Design, Hair/Makeup, Sound and Sound Editing.
The Last Jedi is not an easy movie for Star Wars fans. General audiences will eat it up; it has everything to satisfy the four-quadrant mandate that modern tentpoles demand more than ever. But where Johnson takes the story, and where he leaves the characters at the end of it, will make some people cheer while others revolt. And for that reason alone, I'll recommend seeing The Last Jedi (as if you needed me to). But just prepare yourself: "This is not going to go the way you think!"