A Movie Review: The Last Jedi

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“You came from nothing. You’re nothing. But not to me.”

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, begins, as Star Wars films so often do, with a colossal space battle. Led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, in her last performance), the Resistance desperately battles a First Order fleet that is trying to destroy their base. Cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leads an effective but costly counterattack and is admonished by Leia for defying her orders. Meanwhile, ex-Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) teams up with Rose (Kelly Tran) to find and disable a tracking device that the First Order is using to locate and kill Resistance fighters.

Elsewhere in the galaxy, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is still languishing on the isolated planet where cynical and embittered former Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been hiding in disgrace for years. Luke initially tells Rey to get lost but he later agrees to teach her the ways of the Force after being persuaded by some old friends. When she’s taking a break from training, Rey spends her time using some sort of Jedi telepathy to communicate with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, the adversary/frenemy that she defeated at the end of “The Force Awakens”. Both Luke and Kylo tell Rey their versions of what happened the night that Ben turned to the Dark Side, and Rey is torn about whom to believe.

The film gets off to a somewhat shaky start as director Rian Johnson, a newcomer to the series, struggles to find a consistent tone. It’s as if he couldn’t decide whether his version of Star Wars should be a slapstick comedy or a dark psychological thriller. The film’s goofy sense of humor doesn’t quite fit with this franchise. It seems better suited to “Guardians of the Galaxy” or the newer “Star Trek” movies.

However, “The Last Jedi” finds its voice in the second half, buoyed by the intriguing relationship between Rey and Ben (more on them later), the return of Luke Skywalker in his first major role in the series since 1983, and an action-packed conclusion. The final hour features several major plot twists that set up some interesting storylines for future Star Wars films.

Mark Hamill’s heavily anticipated return to the series (after a brief cameo at the end of “The Force Awakens”) is interesting to watch. The Luke Skywalker that Rey encounters is a very different person from the character that fans remember from the original trilogy. This seems to have bothered some viewers, but I didn’t mind it at all. How many of us are the same person we were decades ago? Mark Hammill gives a solid performance and seems to relish returning to the role. I could write a great deal more about Luke’s role in the film but will refrain in order to avoid revealing major spoilers.

The most interesting aspect of “The Last Jedi” is the complex relationship between Rey and Kylo/Ben. The simmering sexual tension between them is unlike anything we’ve seen in a Star Wars flick before. The closest comparison is Han and Leia in the original trilogy, but those were two “good guy” characters. Rey and Ben are both convinced that they can seduce the other into joining their side, and each character is legitimately tempted by their counterpart – both emotionally and physically. Their relationship climaxes in a dazzling scene where they team up to defeat a common enemy. Rey and Ben will be one hell of a power couple if they ever reach a consensus about which side they’re on.  

The movie’s other storylines aren’t quite as memorable. Finn and Rose’s journey is amusing but proceeds predictably. At least Finn gets to have another showdown with Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), his tormentor from the previous installment. Poe, who leads an attempted mutiny against a Resistance leader whom he believes is either incompetent or a traitor, gets some much-needed character development. He learns about the consequences of recklessness and hubris after he makes a series of well-intentioned but disastrous mistakes that put the Resistance at risk.

Rian Johnson puts his own stamp on Star Wars. He could have made a cookie-cutter franchise flick, but instead had the guts to embrace his own vision, critics be damned. It’s easy to respect a director who does that, even if we disagree with some of the choices that he makes. With that said, I’m glad that JJ Abrams, the director of “The Force Awakens”, is returning to direct Episode IX.

“The Last Jedi” is one of the darkest, and is certainly the weirdest, installment of the Star Wars franchise. It doesn’t reach the heights of top notch fare like “The Empire Strikes Back” but it’s a very entertaining film. Strong performances by Mark Hamill, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, surprising plot twists, and a rousing conclusion make it a worthy addition to the series.

Rating: 7/10

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