The moment I see “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…..“, this feeling comes over me. It’s a hard feeling to describe to someone who doesn’t love Star Wars. For me, it takes me back to when I was a kid watching A New Hope for the first time. It’s this amazing feeling of nostalgia that washes over me. This past weekend, I had the chance to see The Last Jedi in IMAX with my father, brother & daughter. Three generations of fans. To say we were excited is an understatement, but I tried to keep my expectations low as best as I could. For its 2 hour & 32 minute run time I was completely engrossed. Director Rian Johnson creates something new and exciting for the Star Wars universe, subverts fan expectations, and sets up Episode 9 for some very interesting story telling. While The Force Awakens was comfort food, it was something we were familiar with, The Last Jedi tries to play with what you think a Star Wars movie should be. It exceeded my expectations and I can easily say this is one of my all time favorite films in the series.
MILD SPOILERS BELOW
The film takes place over 3 different storylines. There’s Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is trying to recruit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to help battle the New Order. She is also somehow connected to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) by the force, which leads to some interesting revelations (and a sick lightsaber battle). There’s Poe (Oscar Isaac), our brash and reckless X-Wing pilot who is stuck with Leia (Carrie Fisher), Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) and the Rebels aboard their ship with dwindling fuel supply, as they’re being pursued by the New Order. Then we have Finn (John Boyega) & Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who have been tasked with finding a master coder to stop the New Order from tracking the Rebels (the New Order have the tech to track the Rebels through light speed…….. I KNOW RIGHT??) so they can make the jump and escape imminent death. It’s a lot to take in, but it works, and comes together for an amazing final act.
There have been complaints that the New Order could have just sent ships from the front to intercept the Rebels, but I like to think they’re so full of themselves, they wanted to make the Rebels suffer for as long as possible before completely destroying them. There’s also concerns with the Finn & Rose story line (seriously, people really didn’t like it), which takes place in and around a casino (and apparently doesn’t feel like Star Wars at all?), but I really don’t see why there are any concerns to begin with. I feel it has a greater purpose in the grand scheme of things, and I enjoyed it. What takes place during this part involving the slave children, and what’s hinted at in the final scene of the film could be the jumping off point for Rian’s new saga. It could also lead into Episode 9 but who knows. This part of the Star Wars universe is in J.J. Abrams hands now.
It wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without the awesome special effects and battles, and The Last Jedi definitely delivers. From the opening space battle with a giant New Order ship called the Dreadnought, to a final stand off between the Rebels & New Order on a planet that literally looks like it’s bleeding when vehicles travel across its terrain. It all looks great. One of the standout fights is around the mid-point involving Kylo and Rey. It’s a sight to behold, and one of the best lightsaber battles we’ve seen in the franchise. I’ll always enjoy the other films in the series, but Disney and Rian Johnson have taken the franchise to a whole new level. Even all the new creatures look cool, varying from cute (Porgs) to weird (the residents of Lukes’ home). Star Wars really comes alive in this installment.
All the actors do a remarkable job, but the standouts for me were Mark Hamill, Adam Driver and Andy Serkis (our boy Gollum) as Supreme Leader Snoke. Mark plays a Luke you haven’t seen before. He’s a badass for sure, but he’s also vulnerable. He’s old, and has made mistakes that he wishes he could just forget about entirely. I really loved the way his story plays out. Adam plays Kylo with more conflict this time around. We thought when he killed his father, he had made his complete transfer to the Dark side. In Last Jedi, he’s as conflicted as ever. His motives and what drives him are grander than I ever expected them to be. His character has evolved the most out of everyone I would say. Finally, Andy is cruel and dominating as Snoke. He carries a level of menace and power we haven’t seen since Darth Vader. It’s hard to say where his story will go next (if at all…..), but the performance given from Andy here is fantastic. My only complaint I would say is with Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. She has some serious acting chops and such a huge role on Game of Thrones as Brienne of Tarth, that her role here is wasted (again). Why not just hire a nobody to play the character for what is put on display here? Hell, a monkey could have been Captain Phasma and I don’t think I would’ve known the difference.
Overall, I love the new direction the Star Wars franchise is heading. This one totally shakes things up and is overloaded with action and spectacle. That’s the magic of this world and what continues to pull me in, anything can happen. I’m looking forward to seeing how J.J. Abrams handles the new status quo in Episode 9. I can’t wait to see where Rian Johnson takes the franchise with his new trilogy. Like always, it’s great to be a Star Wars fan. – NVJ