It’s that magical time of year again. Time for a brand spanking new entry in the ever growing Star Wars saga.
I went into The Last Jedi determined not to let my fanboy instincts cloud my judgement. I adored The Force Awakens but the more I think about it after the fact, the more I see its issues. I called Rogue One the best Star Wars film ever made, but is it really my favorite? It’s easy to be swept up in the excitement of a new visit to the galaxy far, far away, and it’s important to try to step back and separate that initial excitement from a real evaluation.
The Force Awakens is a fun Star Wars movie, no doubt, and it reinvigorated the brand. JJ Abrams set the stage for things to come, introduced new characters, and reminded us of why we were fans in the first place. No easy task, but it is one he accomplished nicely enough. But at the same time, the movie plays more to fan service than anything else at times, leaning heavily on nostalgia and fun for no other reasons but those. The Last Jedi, directed by Rian Johnson, is the first film to continue this new chapter in Star Wars lore, and represents the real test – can these characters and story carry themselves? Are we going to be interested in them and not just what they remind us of? Now that the newness of the franchise 2.0 has worn off, are we excited by what it has become? And do we want more? Those are the questions.
Weaving back and forth between the battles of the Resistance, and Rey’s encounter with Luke, and more, The Last Jedi doesn’t let up on the tension, discovery, and excitement but for a moment or two. There’s a lot of movie here, but it’s neither boring nor confusing. I’m suddenly liking and caring about these new characters a lot more than before as they come into their own, and the stakes have never felt so real. There are many times where you’ll be convinced that the good guys don’t stand a chance – and sometimes you might be right.
The biggest improvement in this film over The Force Awakens is that nearly everything feels like it has a purpose for existing and happening on screen. Not much is there that doesn’t drive the story forward or arrive organically. We aren’t introduced to new characters simply to have new characters, and very little smacks of being contrived for the sake of looking cool or reminding us of other Star Wars moments. Gone is the mirror held up to the favorite moments of the original trilogy, and where we get reflection it is more thematic than anything as things come full circle, intentionally showing us history repeating at times, even as it changes. It’s fresher than it is familiar, but still fits in with the established universe effortlessly. It doesn’t break anything, but doesn’t necessarily play it safe either.
The battles are charged and feature gorgeous cinematic moments. They have found even cooler ways to take down Star Destroyers, and it is breathtaking. The force has never been so mysterious, mystical, and powerful before and when it is explained, nothing close to midichlorians is ever mentioned. Win. There are moments that reflect on previous films in the series, in a bit of a meta way, and other moments that offer up quick examples of social commentary in our own world, but nothing so obvious to be abrasive or take you out of the moment. In fact, there are certain things (one little detail in particular) that surprised me about how this film distances itself from previous iterations.
No matter your theories, how many times you’ve watched all the trailers and interviews, and how long you’ve spent trolling the internet for clues, and no matter how much of an expert you might think you are, you will be surprised. Sure there will be some things you’ve guessed right, but this is not a predictable story, and there are plenty of surprises along the way. The marketing has not given everything away and there is even a character or two that they have kept quite hidden from public view, to the best of my knowledge.
There are some issues with clunky dialogue at times, and some left overs from The Force Awakens that don’t quite work. There is a dramatic scene near the beginning of the film that I found too hokey for my taste, and a moment or two that could fall into the “just existing because it seemed cool” category. It’s not perfect. But if it is any indication of where we’re headed, then I’m quite excited to get there. This movie, though, is good enough by itself to not worry about that for now.
Mrs. Hamster did not screen this film
Brother Hamster did not screen this film
My rating: Four out of five hats
Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi battles into 4,175 theaters, including IMAX 3D, December 15