WARNING: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS for “The Last Jedi.” Please direct all angry emails to my attorney.
“The Force Awakens” was good, but “The Last Jedi” actually makes it better.
The biggest criticism lobbed at “The Force Awakens” was that it was simply a remake of “A New Hope,” touching on all the classic’s major story beats. This is true, and yet “The Last Jedi” showed that this non-risky gamble paid off. Taking it safe the first time around was a way to ensure old fans that their favorites were safe, while sneakily bringing in new characters to introduce “Star Wars” to a new generation.
And now, with “The Last Jedi,” we have the best and boldest “Star Wars” movie since the original trilogy.
Has there ever been a funnier “Star Wars” movie?
All “Star Wars” movies have comic relief, as they should, even if people on the internet are arguing about whether or not the humor belongs. “The Last Jedi” realized that General Hux (Domnhall Gleeson) is better played as an incompetent schmuck than some sinister baddie. Outside of comedies, few movies show that some villains are better portrayed as absurd rather than frightening. It feels like a “Star Wars” movie made by “Spaceballs” fans.
New worlds! New creatures!
Sure, “The Force Awakens” introduced new places, but they all (intentionally) looked like places we have seen in the “Star Wars” universe before. It’s no coincidence that Jakku looks a lot like Tatooine. There was even ANOTHER Death Star.
This time around, we got a Monte Carlo-like casino planet that was covering up the galaxy’s ugly class warfare. We also got Porgs, which were both adorable and less distracting than Ewoks, and gorgeous-looking foxes made of delicate glass. It not only looked like things we never saw in “Star Wars” movie, but things you wouldn’t see in any movie. And that’s why you see “Star Wars.”
“The Force Awakens” saw the end of Han Solo. His death, at the hands of his son Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), was tragic. But also, after it happened, it was barely mentioned again. Solo fell down an endless pit, and the movie just moved on.
Luke, meanwhile, got the ending he deserved in “The Last Jedi.” Hamill is marvelous here, showing how the bright-eyed Luke of the first trilogy is now a hardened old man who has seen some shit.
Luke ceases to exist after using a Jedi trick to save the Resistance from being crushed by the First Order. His last look at the galaxy is of a binary sunset, drawing us back to “A New Hope.” The moment is transcendent, and will bring even the most casual “Star Wars” fan to tears.
There are some flaws
Each “Star Wars” movie is too big to be absolutely perfectly. I’d be suspicious if any of them were flawless.
That said, “The Last Jedi” sometimes pushes it with its running time. Most of the new characters from this trilogy are fantastic, but there are sometimes too many to create a perfect balance of subplots. Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) was really allowed to shine here. And Adam Driver brings the kinds of nuance you rarely see in a blockbuster villain.
But at the same time, it feels like there’s just too little of Poe (Oscar Isaac). And once again, Captain Phasma feels like a character who never reaches her full potential, like all of her best possible moments were given to other characters instead.
Rian Johnson proves that franchise movies can still be interesting
“Star Wars” seemed in trouble earlier this year.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were abruptly fired from the upcoming Han Solo spinoff and replaced with Ron Howard. Colin Trevorrow left Episode IX* and replaced with J.J. Abrams. Howard and Abrams are both fine directors (the former an even better narrator) with massive and deserved accomplishments, but it felt like a sign that Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy was looking to keep things safe.
“The Last Jedi” is the last thing from that.
Johnson took bold risks onscreen with his 2012 sci-fi masterpiece, “Looper.” He also directed two of the best episodes in “Breaking Bad” history (“Bug,” “Ozymandias”) that proved he could handle a sacred property and make it feel both new and different. “The Last Jedi” feels like it has a sense of cinematic influence that goes beyond just this franchise (think about that shot of Rey’s endless reflection, or Snoke’s jaw-dropping death).
At the same time, he feels more than willing to stomp on some sacred ground.
Luke receives his lightsaber, and then tosses it over a cliff. After two years of speculation about the identity of Rey’s parents, the conclusion is just, “eh, they were junk collectors.” At another point, the sacred Jedi texts are burned to the ground. The former decision has especially infuriated people. While a lack of conclusion like that can be frustrating, this also demonstrates a refreshing “screw your fan theories” mentality. And really, would you have felt any better if Rey was Luke’s daughter? How interesting would that really be?
Abrams will be back for Episode IX. Again, Abrams can make a damn entertaining movie. But as “The Force Awakens” showed, he prefers to tell a traditional tale as opposed to breaking new ground. In a way, I wish “The Last Jedi” was the final “Star Wars” movie ever. I’m not sure we’ll ever get one this good again.
*Trevorrow’s dismissal was for other reasons. But you wonder why they didn’t at least try to find somebody more interesting (or maybe, you know, a woman) to replace him. PS “Jurassic World” is good.