Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an experience of seemingly big moments in the most famous and loved franchise in history. There are instances of enormous satisfaction here and smaller developments and touches that work.
Jedi is also a little deceiving. When the credits rolled, I slowly began to realize the seismic occurrences witnessed weren’t necessarily all that. There are major developments with some historic characters, but there’s also examples of stagnation with some principals and truly furthering the action along. There is no other series of pictures where the positive aspects are magnified to legendary status and the flaws are portrayed as crimes against humanity. If Jar Jar Binks were to be tried in a court of fanatics, his demise would come slowly and with pain.
In the cycle of endless chatter that accompanies each episode, the 8th appears primed to garner both emotions. To this writer, some of its shortcomings were more obvious than what we saw in episode VII, The Force Awakens.
The knock on Awakens was simple and I believe mostly misguided. When J.J. Abrams and Disney took over the reigns from George Lucas, complaints were registered that it was essentially a remake of the 1977 original. This is a fair point to a small degree but I walked away from Awakens highly energized and quite pleased with the new crop of characters mixed with the ones we’ve grown up with. I didn’t feel it was just an effective ripening of our collective member berries. It stood on its own.
When we last left our heroine Rey (Daisy Ridley), she was standing on a lush mountain top seeking the help of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). An Awakens surprise was that Luke loomed in the story, but didn’t say a word and didn’t appear until the final frames. He’s present here and he’s plenty conflicted about whether he wants to help his Force bearing wannabe apprentice. While Daisy and Luke work all that out, Chewbacca gets to hang out with seriously adorable creatures called Porgs. They’ll make great Christmas toys.
Meanwhile, Finn (John Boyega) awakens from his slumber caused in the previous installment to befriend Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a maintenance worker who becomes his right-hand girl. Poe (Oscar Isaac) is still the cocky fighter pilot who drives his superiors crazy. They include Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and another high ranking official played by Laura Dern.
Of course, there’s also the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who made his mom a widow, is back. He’s still experiencing family conflict drama that would probably keep his ship’s psychiatrist busy if there was one. Kylo is still under the command of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and he’s developed a telepathic type communication with Ren. It’s their dynamic that gives Jedi some of its most significant and powerful moments. Much credit is due to the superb work of Ridley and Driver, which was the case the first time around.
Not all character arcs work as well. It mostly does with Luke and Jedi features Hamill’s most convincing work as Luke. Isaac’s Poe is still a bit of a one trick pony, but the talented actor is granted more screen time to shine. Boyega’s Finn is sidelined with subpar subplots. He’s also saddled by teaming up with a thief played by Benicio del Toro. The Oscar winning actor plays his role so over the top that it’s a tad distracting. I’d say the same for Domhnall Gleeson as First Order General Hux. Finn and company have a whole segment on a new planet filled with degenerates and a lush casino. A triumph of production design, yes, but it also felt like filler.
The Last Jedi has a lot of humor in it, more so that I expected from its new director Rian Johnson. The reliance of it may disappoint some die hards, but I found most of it welcome. By its nature, some of the most dramatic moments succeed just because they’re present. Luke walking into the Falcon? Check. Luke and Leia reuniting after years apart? Check. So for those who complained about episode VII’s nostalgia peddling, it’s a bit unavoidable I say.
Bottom line: my Last Jedi reaction was a little more mixed than when I saw Awakens. It’s easily better than anything Lucas gave us in episodes I-III. For those hoping this would be the Empire of the new trilogy, you can transfer that hope to IX.
*** (out of four)