The Last Jedi Turns the Tables on Star Wars History
The struggle between the dark and light is at the very core of Star Wars, and that's even more present in The Last Jedi. But the film removes itself from the constant tug-of-war between the Resistance and the First Order (to an extent). Failure dominates The Last Jedi; virtually every one of the Resistance's plans fell apart, either by their ignorance for improperly judging the First Order's capability or because the First Order themselves learned from the Empire's mistakes. Following orders may not be something the Star Wars heroes are used to, but if - for example - Poe, Finn, and Rose listened to Admiral Holdo in the first place, perhaps the Resistance's last fighters would've been able to sneak away undetected.
Compared to the simplistic way the First Order lost in The Force Awakens (Starkiller Base's destruction, for example) and the Empire lost in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi takes a page out of Return of the Jedi's script (yes, RotJ) and actually makes the villains a force to be reckoned with. The First Order may have lost one Supreme Leader, but they gained another - one that's possibly more focused than ever before - and struck a massive blow to the Resistance. What's more, the Resistance now realizes that they don't have the support they so desperately needed.
Is The Last Jedi as Good as The Empire Strikes Back?
For the aforementioned reasons, some are already declaring The Last Jedi to be the best in the series, but is it really? Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back is arguably the gold standard when it comes to Star Wars films - and sequels in general. So, judging Johnson's installment in Lucasfilm's Star Wars sequel trilogy against the franchise's baseline, does it hold up?
The Last Jedi is truly an astounding film, from beginning to end, but it's got its shortcomings. The humor was overdone and flat-out juvenile at times, often providing levity where there didn't need to be any. The film tore down Kylo Ren only to prop him back up again (assuming audiences believe in his newfound resolve). And the deaths, though seemingly necessary to progress the plot forward, could be read as cheap gimmicks to shake audiences awake. The many new Force powers have also sparked fierce debate: Leia's Star-Lord moment, Luke's projection, and Kylo and Rey communicating with each other through the Force instead of simply "feeling" each others' presence.
Interestingly, a key issue with The Last Jedi mimics what some critics said about The Empire Strikes Back when that film released way back in 1980: Episode VIII doesn't present a self-contained story, but rather feels like the middle chapter (as it is) in one, ongoing narrative, without an actual beginning, middle, and end. But where The Empire Strikes Back differs is a balanced mix of autonomy and inevitability; everything that happened was necessary. It's harder to say that of Episode VIII.
While Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi took risks with the franchise and turned out better than The Force Awakens, it still fell short of the saga's benchmark. Although, given how great The Empire Strikes Back is, that's not the end of the world.
- Star Wars 8/Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) release date: Dec 15, 2017
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018