Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong'o, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro
Director: Rian Johnson
Running time: 2 hours 32 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Warning: Since the force is strong with this review, proceed at your own spoiler-filled risk
If Star Wars: The Force Awakens existed mainly so that director JJ Abrams could appease fan-service nostalgia in this age of remixes, then Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi is what happens when nostalgia is no longer enough when there are disturbances in the force. The way the film sets up hotly debated fan-theories and then roundly deflates them is a risky move; making this the rare studio film based on a beloved property willing to polarize without completely abandoning the visual look and themes of the series.
Probably the boldest idea here is the rejection of legacy; the way cyclical tales from the past inform the present and future stakes of the characters inhabiting a galaxy far, far away. The Last Jedi makes a point that, to quote a certain brooding villain in training, "letting the past die" might actually lead to genuine revolution. Therefore, fans hoping they'd get answers regarding Rey's origins or a deep-dive into the diabolical nature of Supreme Leader Snoke will walk away disappointed, or worse yet, outraged.
The Last Jedi more less picks up where the The Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) trapped on a remote planet with the hermit-like Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) whom she hopes will take the mantel as the titular "Last Jedi" and join the fight against evil. But first, Johnson treats us to a zippy opening action sequence featuring cocky flyboy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) engaged in a space dogfight while General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) looks on strategically. Meanwhile, Domhnall Gleeson continues his British vamping as General Hux, hellbent on destroying any last semblance of the resistance fighters, even as Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) keeps sulking behind his Vader-esque black helmet. Clearly relishing his chance to deliver Star Wars spectacle, Johnson breathlessly moves his camera through corridors and windows while maintaining a sense of breakneck pacing, giving the film a jolt of energy right out of the gate.
Once the actual plot kicks in, Johnson can't fully distance himself from the Disney-approved narrative trajectory of the franchise; with mini-adventures, close calls, hero journey motifs, and characters being split up to later be reunited being par for the course. More interestingly, the talented writer-director of indie favorite Brick and inventive sci-fi brain-bender Looper subverts fan expectations and expands on the themes in unexpected ways. Whereas Star Wars has always been about the battle between light and darkness by finding the balance of the force, The Last Jedi posits grey areas and heroic archetypes with tortured psyches. The film's most startling idea is its visualization of the psychic connection between Rey and Kylo Ren in which two opposing viewpoints communicate separated by time and space. Simply through framing and deft positioning of the actors, Johnson achieves a brilliant synthesis of cosmic consciousness without any need for fancy CGI.
What happens in The Last Jedi isn't as important as the way it happens. Reformed Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is back, but instead of pairing him up with Rey (the expected route), he's joined by an engine room worker, Rose (Kelly Matie Tran), who stake out a perilous mission to disable the enemy’s tracking device. Rey hands Luke a lightsaber, but he isn't remotely interested in fighting. In fact, he's mostly moping around the island and waiting to die. Call it a mid-life Jedi crisis. Supreme Leader Snoke seemed like the new Emperor from his brief introduction in The Force Awakens, but he's an easily disposable foil here; issuing orders from a throne room guarded by red warriors next to a backdrop that looks like something out of a Dario Argento film. And so on it goes, with moments where the film seems to be taking the expected turn, only to pivot into surprising territory.
Additionally, Johnson goes for big, operatic visuals here--a spacecraft being split in two followed by silence, Luke sitting atop a mountain flanked by a giant orange moon, a dizzying action set-piece on a planet where streams of bright red salt trail behind speeding starfighters--while also nailing the more emotional scenes. At times, The Last Jedi feels closer to the mythic spectacle of Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood than the Lucas-inflected homage of The Force Awakens.
The Last Jedi is probably too long and over-plotted, but there's a real sense of Johnson enthusiastically staking the deck and then watching his cards fall. Unlike the pandering warm hug of The Force Awakens, this one posits a somewhat radical notion; that anyone, no matter their lineage, has the possibility to harness the powers of the force. Let the past die, indeed. The Last Jedi burns down those old Jedi temples and reconstructs a clean slate; one with a blurred line between good and evil, the dark side and the light.