Star Wars: The Last Jedi is damn good, even when it isn’t great
Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has the difficult task of being the middle child in the new Star Wars trilogy. A lot of second movies struggle with being satisfying while still leaving enough open ends to propel the story into the final chapter. Thankfully, this is Star Wars, and it’s got the backing of an incredibly talented cast and crew, plus all the might of the House of Mouse behind it. The Last Jedi is not a flawless movie, but even when it isn’t great, it’s still damn good!
Opening right on the heels of The Force Awakens, our heroes, led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), are trying to regroup and figure out what they can do to stop the advance of space Hitler General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the First Order, which only seems to be growing stronger by the day. Sure, the Resistance blew up the ultra-powerful Starkiller Base, but the gang is much worse for wear after the fight. Finn’s been slashed up, Leia is feeling the loss of everyone’s favorite smuggler, and poor Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) just trying to figure out how so few remaining rebels can get pumped up and fight back when the odds seem to be very much out of their favor—though Poe, much like the quick talking hero who preceded him, doesn’t ever want to hear those odds. Even our Force-wielding villain, Kylo Ren (Adams Driver) is beat down and questioning himself. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) climbed up all those steps only to be greeted by a crotchety Jedi Master (Mark Hamill) who isn’t particularly interested in playing tutor.
Where much of the criticism for The Force Awakens was directed at its reliance on nostalgia, The Last Jedi is confident enough in its characters and performances to take a bigger step away from everything we expect in a new-era Star Wars movie. Yes, the tone is darker and the plot doesn’t advance as quite as quickly, but this isn’t just a rehash of Empire Strikes Back. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of classic Star Wars quips, usually delivered with charm by Oscar Isaac, or that they haven’t squeezed in a few adorable creatures who will make an appearance in toy form underneath a lot of trees this Christmas. This is Star Wars, not Game of Thrones, and things can be silly, cheesy, heartfelt, fun, and awe-inspiring at the same time. That’s why we love these movies.
The Last Jedi splits the action into two storylines, the Resistance and the Force, and pushes the overall narrative forward with each group having to undertake their own struggles and eventually unite for the final chapter of the current saga when we get to Episode IX. This isn’t an easy task. This film needed to develop Rey’s powers while still maintaining enough mystery to keep us guessing for, what I’m assuming will be an even bigger reveal in the final chapter—you know how J.J. Abrams loves those mystery boxes. It also needed to show us the strength and resolve of the non-Force-users of the group, like Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) who are just regular people willing to risk everything to defeat the oppressive regime. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, it also had to keep walking the tightrope between making Kylo Ren too sympathetic or too irredeemable to be compelling—something miraculously executed in The Force Awakens.
And let’s talk about Kylo Ren for a moment. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Adam Driver is everything we wished Hayden Christensen would have been in the prequels. He’s captivating and sympathetic, yet menacing and intense. He’s exactly what was needed for this character. The Force isn’t just light and dark, and we needed to see Kylo Ren struggle with those gray areas. In this second installment, in particular, his inner conflict rages and Driver plays it with a quiet, dangerous subtlety that immediately draws your eye whenever he’s on screen. Kylo Ren is unpredictable, but it’s important to see that in more subtle ways than his penchant for destroying furniture in a rage. While all the performances are solid, Driver is a major highlight.
The action is also beautiful and you can tell no expense was spared with visuals. Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is a realistic and repulsive triumph in CG, and there’s one particular lightsaber fight that is sure to make more than a few “best of Star Wars” YouTube countdowns.
Not everything works perfectly in this movie. There are a few characters that don’t get fully developed and a few twists and turns that feel more like fan service than plot service. Still, the very fact that there can be twists and turns, that you can still feel surprised at where this story is taking you, is a testament to The Last Jedi’s strength. Simply put, it’s Star Wars! You know, at the very least, you’re always going to have a good time.