While 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens established the next era of the Star Wars universe and positioned it for the future, Episode VIII—The Last Jedi puts forth the notion that for a generation to truly come into its own, it must break with the past. That notion is voiced quite fervently by Kylo Ren, aka Ben Solo (Adam Driver), who, as you may recall, murdered his own father, Han Solo, as a means to completing his journey into darkness. And it is reinforced by none other than Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Ren’s uncle and former Jedi master, who declares, “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”
Not everyone feels that way, though. First and foremost is Rey (Daisy Ridley), the young Force-wielding scavenger from the desert planet Jakku, who has emerged as the new central figure of the Star Wars saga. Since the end of The Force Awakens, it has been her mission to bring Luke back into the fight against the First Order, the power-hungry group built upon the ashes of the Empire and led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Rey is committed to holding on to the past; in addition to her belief that Skywalker’s return is crucial to defeating the First Order, she also clings to the hope that she will find her long-missing parents and feel whole again.
The Star Wars series itself faces the same issue as it continues to push forward beyond creator George Lucas, who famously sold the franchise, along with his company, Lucasfilm Ltd., to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012. As written and directed by Rian Johnson, whose previous work includes 2012’s Looper and several episodes of Breaking Bad, The Last Jedi emphasizes that the few remaining elements from the Original Trilogy are slipping away, with the newcomers introduced last time—including Oscar Isaac’s hotshot pilot Poe Dameron and John Boyega’s stormtrooper-turned-Resistance fighter Finn—forced to step up and take over.
General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) continues to lead the Resistance, which has been severely weakened after the First Order’s Starkiller Base destroyed the capital world of the New Republic, and the losses continue to mount. The survival of the fleet depends on a desperate secret mission undertaken by Finn and a spunky maintenance worker named Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), with whom he forms a fast friendship. Poe, meanwhile, has begun to openly defy orders he doesn’t agree with, whether they’re issued by Leia or her fellow Resistance leader, Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern).
There’s also plenty of internal conflict within the First Order, as Kylo Ren and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) continue their rivalry and their efforts to outdo each other in the eyes of Snoke. Each man has his own task to complete for the towering, elderly Supreme Leader: Hux is bent on wiping out the Resistance once and for all, while Ren is focused on finding Rey and killing Luke.
Speaking of Skywalker, his relationship with Rey, which was teased in the very last moments of The Force Awakens, is the centerpiece of the new film, and it is fascinating, moving, and, in the end, thoroughly satisfying.
The same can be said about The Last Jedi as a whole. Though it clocks in at about two-and-a-half hours, making it the longest Star Wars movie ever made, there’s not a dull moment. It is filled with twists and turns and surprises that will cause the jaws of even longtime, jaded fans to drop. There are many deeply emotional moments that will trigger tears and cheers. And, at times, it’s pretty damn funny. Rian Johnson can proudly take his place alongside Lawrence Kasdan as one of the best writers to work on the series. In fact, it’s fairly clear that Kasdan’s work was a major influence on Johnson, as, throughout The Last Jedi, there are strong echoes of both 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, both of which were written by Kasdan.
The end result is the best Star Wars movie since Empire, which is widely acknowledged as the high point of the series.
Much of the credit for the film’s success must go to the cast, all of whom are top-notch.
Mark Hamill delivers what just may be his greatest performance as Luke Skywalker, though his stellar work in The Empire Strikes Back is tough to surpass. Anyone who felt slighted by Luke’s brief, non-speaking role in The Force Awakens can take solace in the fact that the no-longer Young Skywalker is a key player this time around. It’s not the story arc that I would have chosen for Luke—and Hamill has said the same thing on numerous occasions—but nonetheless, Hamill pulls off a combination of tragedy, humor, eccentricity, sensitivity, and badassery that overcomes any—well, most—of the qualms that I had.
|Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker|
In her final turn as Leia, the late Carrie Fisher too is given more to do, and she handles all of it with charm, wit, and grace. Her interactions with Oscar Isaac are particularly wonderful. It is impossible to watch Fisher in this movie and not feel the weight of her untimely loss. And yet it’s not a distraction. It’s just comforting to watch her once again playing her most famous role, and to see her doing it so well.
|Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa|
Incidentally, Isaac provides some of the biggest laughs in the film, bringing the kind of down-to-earth, mischievous irreverence that was the stock in trade of Harrison Ford in the original three movies. It’s now common knowledge that Poe Dameron was originally supposed to die in The Force Awakens—and it’s a very good thing that he didn’t.
|Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron|
Daisy Ridley continues the masterful work that she began in the previous film. She is, without a doubt, one of the best actors to ever appear in a Star Wars movie, and she has been turning in among the very best performances in the entire series.
|Daisy Ridley as Rey|
Adam Driver builds upon his work in The Force Awakens by making Kylo Ren a more complex, more multi-faceted figure whose actions cannot be easily predicted. I would argue that Ren is a significantly more effective, more compelling character here than he was in the previous movie.
|Adam Driver as Kylo Ren|
John Boyega, who was truly one of the main highlights of The Force Awakens, remains a strong presence. While his character Finn doesn’t get quite as much room for major development here as he received last time, Boyega’s performance is every bit as good. (And his American accent remains a marvel.)
|John Boyega as Finn|
Of the new characters, Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose and Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo are among the real standouts. Tran is adorable, Dern is enigmatic.
Also of note: Benicio del Toro, who is delightfully eccentric as a shady character that Finn and Rose encounter on their journey.
Returning players Serkis and Gleeson are given more to do as, respectively, Snoke and Hux, and both are more than up to the task. Gwendolyn Christie also reprises her role as stormtrooper leader Captain Phasma. And of course, Anthony Daniels is back as See Threepio, who gets some nice, touching moments.
This being a Star Wars movie, it goes without saying that the visual effects are spectacular. And John Williams turns in another excellent score, building upon the work that he did in each of the previous seven films.
Needless to say, a lot happens in The Last Jedi. Surprisingly, several key plot threads introduced in The Force Awakens are definitively resolved here, instead of being carried over into the third film of the current trilogy, which is scheduled for release in December 2019. But there’s plenty of subject matter still left to explore, and returning writer/director J.J. Abrams has a strong starting point from which to build the next—and concluding—chapter.
The last shot of the film, which I won’t describe here, captures that sense that we are at a new starting point, and perfectly conveys the message that regardless of whether we embrace or discard the past, as long as there is hope and wonder and imagination, the future will endure.
Not a bad message, for this galaxy or one that’s far, far away.
© All text copyright Glenn Greenberg, 2017.