Star Wars: The Last Jedi builds upon Star Wars history for a more expansive, high-stakes adventure with plenty of fresh – and classic – elements.
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi is the middle chapter of Lucasfilm's latest trilogy set within the Star Wars universe, though this is the first trilogy since Disney acquired the studio - and the first without original creator George Lucas at the creative helm. Instead, writer/director Rian Johnson takes the reins from J.J. Abrams, who kicked off this new installment of the Skywalker Saga in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi is tasked with continuing the story of The Force Awakens' heroes, and bridging the gap to the concluding installment, Star Wars: Episode IX. Star Wars: The Last Jedi builds upon Star Wars history for a more expansive, high-stakes adventure with plenty of fresh – and classic – elements.
The Last Jedi returns to a galaxy far, far away where, though the Resistance was able to take out the First Order's Starkiller Base, the rebels must flee their own base in order to survive. In an effort to restore hope to the dwindling Resistance forces, the young, Force-sensitive hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). While Rey needs a master Jedi to teach her in the ways of the Force, she also attempts to convince the legendary Jedi to return to the fight. However, it becomes apparent that after Rey's showdown with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) on Starkiller Base, their fates are intertwined, especially in regards to their allegiances to either the Dark Side or the Light.
Meanwhile, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), works with the other leaders of the Resistance - including Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) - to flee from the First Order and live to fight another day. In an attempt to help the Resistance, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) sends Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to retrieve a codebreaker from the extravagant planet of Canto Bight. With Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and the rest of his First Order forces, commanded by General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), closing in on the Resistance, it'll be up to the heroes to save the day and make sure the spark of hope among the rebellion lives on.
When Abrams revived the main Star Wars series with The Force Awakens in 2015, the director was tasked with continuing a story that was, for all intents and purposes, finished. However, the filmmaker was able to reinvigorate the franchise by utilizing enough new elements mixed with classic characters and dynamics that fans flocked to the theater and propelled The Force Awakens to astonishing box office success. Now, Johnson's The Last Jedi is set with an arguably even more difficult task, to continue the stories of both the original and new generation of heroes in a compelling manner. Thankfully, Johnson provides a story with classic Star Wars themes of hope and good vs. evil, with plenty of development for characters new and old - and some truly exciting twists.
What makes The Last Jedi the most unique installment of the Star Wars franchise to date, though, is how big it feels, and how weighty the stakes are. The disparate forces of the Resistance and the First Order (or whichever name the sides of good and evil are going by) have never been felt quite as much as in The Last Jedi, and the desperation of the rebels is an ongoing thread throughout the entire film. These stakes set the stage for a breathlessly exciting fight between the crushing weight of an oppressive regime and the ragtag group of rebels who dare to fight for what is right. While that's been the main theme of Star Wars since the original trilogy, Johnson grounds The Last Jedi in a way that the film offers viewers much better insight into the true scope of the war the rebels are fighting.
But, although the bigger picture of the fate of the galaxy looms constantly in the background of The Last Jedi, the movie is rooted in compelling character drama - led, of course, by Rey. The young Force-sensitive scavenger from Jakku is a long way from home on her journey to learn the ways of the Force, and Ridley proves adept at bringing charm and pure heroism to the role. Hamill, in his first true return to the role of Luke Skywalker, brings to life a much different version of the character than what fans remember - but it is a wholly memorable turn that will leave viewers satisfied. Further, the other two members of the new Star Wars trio, Finn and Poe, are each afforded their moments to shine. Though Boyega and Isaac don't necessarily have meaty character arcs like Ridley's Rey, they continue to bring heart and humor to the story. This is especially apparent when it comes to Finn's mission with Rose - played by Tran, who is a notable standout in a sizable and remarkably talented cast.
Unfortunately, The Last Jedi doesn't use the entirety of its cast to their best advantages, and a number of characters feel short-changed for the sake of not overstuffing what's already a two and a half hour movie. The Last Jedi is undoubtedly the most ambitious Star Wars movie in terms of scope, cast, and sheer length, but the different storylines - while linked thematically - can feel disjointed at times. Still, The Last Jedi is tightly woven, with a breakneck pacing that helps to propel viewers forward. Plus, with characters and a rebellion to which viewers are already attached, and The Last Jedi setting up major stakes, it's easy to remain invested even when jumping from one corner of the galaxy to another.
All in all, there is plenty that does work in The Last Jedi. Johnson has helped usher this latest Star Wars trilogy into new territory that not only brings plenty of fresh ideas to the table, but honors the original movies as well. And the writer-director has done so with such breathtaking visuals and a deft hand that it's not hard to see why Lucasfilm would give him his own Star Wars trilogy. Johnson has not only met what were undeniably high expectations with his installment in one of the biggest movie franchises in history, he's exceeded them. As The Force Awakens proved with its success in 2015, Star Wars is a massively beloved franchise, and The Last Jedi elevates what was already a storied sci-fi/fantasy saga - and sets expectations even impossibly higher for Abrams' return to the trilogy with Episode IX.
Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi starts playing in theaters on Thursday evening, December 15th. It runs 152 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
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- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
- 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