Risk and Reward
This is a spoiler-FREE review of the film
When you reach the eighth installment in a franchise, it becomes difficult to make a completely unique film that does not fall in line with what came before. The Force Awakens was panned by fans saying that the film, while enjoyable, played it safe in terms of the story and where certain characters were placed. This is exactly the opposite case with The Last Jedi with director Rian Johnson breaking free from the constraints of establishing a new trilogy and relishing in the opportunity of exploring new places, arcs, and themes. The Last Jedi is a bold Star Wars movie that feels unique in its style and story and takes considerable risk to make it a great addition to the franchise even when some parts don’t land the way they are supposed to.
This is an extremely dense film, filled with a lot of information to process and themes to explore. Clocking in at two hours and thirty-five minutes, this is the longest Star Wars film to date, and at times that runtime is not completely justified with certain plot threads and scenes. However, in the grand scheme this is an engaging film that sets up certain events in your head to completely subvert expectations and deliver moments that are truly spectacular for the entire series.
The film picks up where we were left off in the previous installment. The First Order is still trying to reign supreme lead by Kylo Ren to take out The Resistance led by General Leia Organa. Elsewhere Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for help in the fight and learn the ways of the Force.
In The Force Awakens Luke Skywalker took a major backseat in order for the audience to fully invest in the new heroes, but with The Last Jedi he takes center stage in Mark Hamill’s strongest performance as the character. Luke is conflicted, bitter, and broken and you feel the weight of the burden he carries through this film. Events have happened that have changed the Luke we knew from the original trilogy, but Mark Hamill still captures the essence of Luke even though we are presented with a very different look at him. He seems cranky and tired, but still retains the core of who he is. His arc and involvement with Rey in the film is by far one of the most interesting and captivating elements that make this film work so beautifully.
Speaking of Rey, Daisy Ridley once again brings a fantastic and truly raw performance as she embarks in her journey. The relationships Rey forms in the film are truly something that help her to explore herself and question the same things that drove her in the previous film. Her relationship with the Force strengthens through this film with the help of Luke which allows for some great character moments and interesting questions to be answered throughout the film.The Rey/Luke dynamic is by far the most interesting part of the story and how that intersects with the other elements of the plot provides for some great moments that completely broke my expectations for the film.
On the other side of the story, The Resistance is still fighting its battle with The First Order. Poe Dameron is given a lot more to do in this film and I enjoyed seeing him more here as he was shortchanged in The Force Awakens. His relationship with Leia and the decisions that are being made within the ranks proves to be investing to watch and provides a great dynamic in the outskirts of war that does not pan out in as you may predict.
This is the last film before Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing, and it is handled properly and with care. Leia is still a commandeering force in the film, but there is also a warmth in her voice. She is the best part of the Resistance scenes in the film as she must deal with the weight of the galaxy and dealing with impulsive new leaders like Poe. The way her lines are delivered in the film prove to be heartbreaking and utter a poetic double meaning given Fisher’s passing that make it truly somber yet fulfilling to watch.
And I cannot go without mentioning my absolute favorite character of this new trilogy: Kylo Ren. We saw in the previous film that he is conflicted and layered and that is continued in this film. Kylo deals with a lot in this film from his relationship with Supreme Leader Snoke to his tortured mind and it is captivating. The way he is plagued and deals with situations continue to make him a truly complex villain that I am fascinated with.
When this movie delivers great moments in story, action, and character, it monumentally rises to the occasion and presents truly awe-inspiring scenes that work to make this a great Star Wars film. That is just further exemplified by the way that Rian Johnson has presented the story. Luke Skywalker says “this is not going to go how you think”, and that statement proves true for every arc, every thread, and every scene. You may think you know how certain characters are going to react or how events will play out, but Rian Johnson shatters the playing field by presenting a story that works so well on its own due to its unpredictability. He takes so many risks with the Star Wars lore which proves to be mostly effective when compared with previous installments. The stakes have never been higher, making this an extremely tense adventure.
This proves true with every action scene. The way that Rian Johnson has filmed this movie is truly unique for any Star Wars film. The action scenes just feel so exciting and tense that I was on the edge of my seat for nearly half of the movie. They are filmed with a style that brings attention to different elements in the surroundings for a one of a kind experience, One scene in particular is my favorite Star Wars action scene ever that gets by on camerawork and direction alone. The reason that they feel so exciting is because we care about these characters so much and the story just makes you question everything that is going on. You’re entranced by what is going on, constantly hoping that our heroes will make it out alive.
Those risks sometimes don’t pan out all too well, and this will anger many Star Wars fans. The lore is experimented with a lot, playing with elements that harken back all the way back to the beginning of the franchise. The choices that are taken sometimes require you to have an open mind, but can be a bit too far fetched in the long run. This will be a polarizing film with the amount of risks taken, but I personally liked a majority of them and believe it just adds to the tension to drives the film. However, I can definitely see how risks will anger viewers.
While so much works well in The Last Jedi, there are problems with one subplot in particular feeling so out of place that it detracts from the film. Finn’s story serves a purpose to the overarching conflict but it does not feel like its an organic part of the story. We cut back to this thread too often, and with the runtime being incredibly long I could not help but feel the momentum was lost during these segments. Again, it serves a purpose but there was a better way to achieve that purpose in a shorter amount of time that would have been far more interesting.
This brings me to the pacing issue in the film. The first half of the film feels a little slow in where time is being spent on certain plot threads. The most interesting parts of the film are anything that deal with Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren and when the story shifts to those moments it is utterly engrossing. However, I wanted those scenes to run longer as I was more invested with those threads than with The Resistance storyline which is engaging in its own way, but not nearly as interesting as the other characters. When you mix this in with Finn’s story line, the movie ultimately suffers from a lack of focus on small elements during the first half.
The second half, however, is fantastic and my emotions ranged from sheer joy to intense fear followed by cheers from everyone in the audience as everything unfolded. Johnson has set up events that are truly paid off by the film’s end that give the film an overall conclusion for the story to go out on. I was truly struck by how much I was on the edge of my seat as everything came to fruition. It is epic on almost every proportion.
And that is both amazing and disheartening. The movie does go on too long due to the fact that the first half has some slower moments. There is a lot of ground to cover and so much information is thrown at you that it can be overwhelming. I had a lot to unpack and will probably need a second viewing to fully process everything. If the film had shaved off some of the time on other plot threads and focused its efforts on the moments that it seemed to want to invest in, this could have easily surpassed The Empire Strikes Back.
But even though it does not reach that height, this is still an amazing Star Wars film that delivers in grandiose ways through story and action. The characters and arcs are fascinating to see unfold and how certain events and moments impact each one’s respectives story is a true feat that subverts all expectations you may have. As a result of the investment in characters, the action heightens through gorgeously filmed sequences that will make your jaw drop and leave you on the edge of your seat. The film builds its spectacular moments and takes considerable risks to keep you on that edge until the very end. While some of those risks may anger some, and with a few plot threads that feel out of place, it does not detract from the overall momentum and experience that The Last Jedi offers. There is a lot to unpack with this film, and I cannot wait to see it again to truly relish in everything that is explored.