Let the past die.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells Rey (Daisy Ridley) that there are three Jedi lessons that she needs to learn, but he only teaches her two of them. I don’t believe that was a mistake, but rather an intentional omission. That’s because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. Such is true because such is life. How else would you explain the untimely death of our beloved princess, Carrie Fisher?
The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, when Rey realizes she too possess the force and needs guidance from Skywalker on how to use it. Meanwhile, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are on the run with the rest of the resistance from the First Order, who is relentlessly hunting them after they blew up Starkiller base. While this is going on, Ben Solo a.k.a. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is in a power struggle with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in between Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who commands them both. A lot of moving pieces here, a lot of things happening all at once. Just like every Star Wars movie.
Here is a film that works better aesthetically than it does literally. Spring-boarding off of the momentum that The Force Awakens started years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is used mostly as a platform for nostalgia, calling out to earlier iconic moments in the series and bringing them into the fold while simultaneously challenging our ideas of these characters. Like any Star Wars movie, there were a lot of things that I loved watching play out here. Other times, I found myself frustrated and confused by some of the creative decisions being made in this film. But let’s slow down and digest one thing at a time.
First of all, the visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment, whether it involves big spectacular CGI-heavy sequences or smaller, quieter moments where we simply appreciate the breathtaking scenery. No doubt this visual prowess has director Rian Johnson’s hand in it, who years earlier directed the gritty and grounded sci-fi thriller Looper. In The Last Jedi, he takes a play from creator George Lucas’ handbook and designed the film through practical methods as opposed to computer-generated ones. The film reportedly had 125 sets created for its visual scope, with designer Neal Scalan claiming that The Last Jedi uses more practical effects than any Star Wars film to date. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that were true. The vehicles, the costuming, the scenery, all of it evokes the sensationalism and world building that Star Wars is known for. On the visual front, The Last Jedi serves the Star Wars saga faithfully and beautifully.
And the cast, both old and new, are just as great in The Last Jedi as they’ve always been, with the best of these frontrunners being Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill. Ridley once again brings the gravitas and the force (pun intended) that she first brought to us in The Force Awakens. Here she really comes into the forefront as a hero all her own, struggling with her own doubts and perceptions of not only what’s going on with her, but with who and what she really needs in her life for personal fulfillment.
Hamill is another story altogether. He doesn’t play the Luke that you remember from the original films; hopeful, adventurous, and believing in the best of everybody. Here he plays Luke with a grimmer façade, a depressing and frail old man filled with penance and regret for the things that he’s done. Like many other passionate fans out there, I didn’t know what to expect from Luke in The Last Jedi. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Yet, even though he’s a different character, Hamill shows that he’s still got that Skywalker blood flowing in him that he embodied in the original trilogy. It’s a different portrayal of Luke for sure, but it isn’t a bad one. Not by a long shot.
As a whole, The Last Jedi delivers on the same sci-fi blockbuster fronts that all of the best Star Wars movies delivers on. The action, the heart, the humor; all of it evokes the same feelings you had when you watched the original Star Wars movies, and the nostalgic Easter Eggs only adds to the appeal. There was one cameo in the movie that had me just grinning from ear to ear, taking me back to when I was a kid watching Yoda training Luke for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back.
Yet, the story has made some dark, drastic changes to the Star Wars saga that severely impacts how the series is going to move forward. I’m not saying they’re bad changes. I’m saying they’re hard to adjust to. Like the prequel series, Star Wars: The Last Jedi turns the original trilogy on its head and challenges the way we perceive these characters and how they should act and behave. No, The Last Jedi is not as bad as The Phantom Menace. It does, however, challenge your identity as a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and there are still three or four scenes I’m still digesting on whether I liked them or not. I know most fans would just like to go into a Star Wars movie, turn off their brain, and let the experience wash over them ethereally. The Last Jedi makes you think a little harder about it, particularly with the scenes that surprised or shocked you the most.
Ultimately, I find myself conflicted with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As a simple viewer, I know I enjoyed what I watched. As a critic, I know I was witnessing skillful filmmaking at work here. But as a fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by some of the changes that were happening to some of my favorite cinematic heroes growing up. Perhaps that’s the point. Do these characters stay the same as the years pass them by, or do they change as time and tragedy slowly cripples them? Anakin Skywalker grew up to become Darth Vader, while his son Luke grew up to become the last Jedi. We can only imagine what will happen to Rey as she too faces the future.