I’ve been looking forward to The Last Jedi merch. I’ve been looking forward to The Last Jedi the movie. And I’ve even been looking forward to writing this Last Jedi review. The first two were amazing, but the latter is proving harder than expected.
The reason? It’s nearly impossible to guess what public reaction to this movie will be. The dialogue is witty, the actors act their nads off, and the cinematography is beautiful. No-one will take issue with any of that. But the plot takes some remarkable turns. For me personally, they worked, but I know not everyone will agree on that front.
Let’s start on a high note – because that’s ridiculously easy. Writer/director Rian Johnson understands exactly what made us fall in love with Star Wars all those years ago. If you’re purely going out to the theater to see some X-wings blast TIE fighters, you’ll get money’s worth in the first fifteen minutes. Blaster shots ring everywhere. And the movie contains possibly the best fight involving lightsabers that’s ever been captured on screen. It’s two and a half hours of pure adrenaline that grabs you and does not let go.
If you’re afraid The Last Jedi is a retread of Empire, I’ve got some good news for you. A newly minted Jedi training on a desolate planet and walkers on white plains are only superficial similarities. If any of its predecessors invoke a comparison, it’s Return of the Jedi. But structurally, it’s much more like Mad Max Fury Road than anything we’ve seen before in this galaxy. The First Order is right on the Resistance’s heels. Every moment could be our heroes’ last, and the tension remains at critical levels throughout because of it.
Of course Rian didn’t make the movie all by his lonesome. He’s surrounded himself with an amazing cast and crew that give it their all. Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, and Adam Driver would all be serious award contenders in a world that values science fiction as an art form. Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson and Andy Serkis are all given more to do than in The Force Awakens and they’re clearly enjoying every second of it. The newcomers to the cast are all welcome additions, Laura Dern’s Holdo and Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose in particular. Rose gets an arc many characters take multiple movies to achieve, and Kelly integrates her into the universe so naturally that it feels like she’s always been there.
The display of stellar craftsmanship continues behind the scenes. John Williams’ heavenly sounds elevate any scene – even though I must confess there don’t seem to be any new classics in the making. The costumes are gorgeous, as are all the new aliens in the elitist foxhole known as Canto Bight. The special effects crew gets the biggest compliment I can think of – the fact that I didn’t notice their work. And cinematographer Steve Yedlin knows just how to frame a shot to burn the action into your retinas in spectacular and vibrant ways.
Like I said though, it’s not a perfect film. Unfortunately, nearly all of the minor gripes I have with it are subject to spoilers, so you won’t read them here. Suffice to say not every character’s decisions feel true to themselves. And the way the film closes explains the drama behind the scenes of Episode IX – I’m curious what writing hoops JJ Abrams will jump through to get a decent plot going for his upcoming movie.
Not unexpectedly, I’ll close out by telling you to see The Last Jedi as soon as you can. It’s an addition to the saga we’ll be discussing for years, if not decades. Episode VIII has set a high bar for the future.