The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 The Force Is Always With You 

Daisy Ridley
Daisy Ridley
Walt Disney Pictures
 153 Minutes
Directed byRian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega 
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

While the original Star Wars was a groundbreaking piece of cinema that influenced the movie industry as we know it in many ways, it was the second film in the original trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, that really made the series what it is today. Fast forward some 35 years, and the franchise is bigger than ever, and its latest core trilogy of films is similarly at its second film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The good news for Star Wars fans who fret over every plot detail and bit of casting is that Last Jedi is indeed a very worthy entry in the Star Wars canon, far closer to Empire Strikes Back than to another highly ballyhooed sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The better news is that it seems poised to propel the new series mythos forward on its own, finally cutting the ties to the older generation of movies.


Those ties, of course, are primarily the original trio of characters around whom the first series revolved: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Script developments and real life have pared down their numbers; regardless of what did or did not happen to Princess Leia in The Last Jedi, Carrie Fisher (who finished all her scenes for this movie) sadly won’t be around for the next movie. But, as The Last Jedi helped audiences say farewell to the past, it also brought the new core group of characters into focus.


The Last Jedi resembles The Empire Strikes Back in the nature of its script, as the central characters are separated for much of the movie. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has finally found Luke Skywalker living as a hermit on a remote planet. She wants Luke to help join the Resistance, but Luke is unwilling to do so, and Rey gradually pieces together that Luke’s attempts at training a group of would-be Jedi, including Han Solo’s son Ben went very badly, leading to the transformation of Ben into Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the loss of the other Jedi.


While Rey is keeping Luke company, most of the rest of the Resistance leaders are on their main ship, fleeing from the forces of the villainous First Order. As long as their fuel holds out, they can stay out of the range of the First Order’s guns, but they only have hours of fuel left. Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac), the spiritual successor to Han Solo, slashes with the acting leader, the far more cautious Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern). Even though the situation seems hopeless, Poe’s friend Finn (John Boyega) and a mechanic, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to sneak on board the First Order’s command vessel and, with the help of a hacker, DJ (Benicio del Toro), disable the device that allows the First Order to track the Resistance ships, thus allowing them to escape.


While George Lucas relinquished control of the Star Wars series prior to this film’s predecessor, The Force Awakens, that film was directed by J.J. Abrams and co-written by Lawrence Kasdan, who worked on the original series. It’s safe to say that everyone involved with the project was closely familiar, not just with Star Wars lore and the mythos, but with the style and Lucas’ way of doing things. Thus, although the film introduced newer, younger characters, there was little difference between the main warring factions (the Resistance and First Order) and their predecessors from the first trilogy.


But the Disney and Lucasfilm executives changed direction for this movie, placing creative control in the hands of a newcomer, both to the franchise and to the relatively close-knit universe of heroic franchises in general, Rian Johnson. Whereas Abrams had worked on Lost and the Star Trek reboot, Johnson’s best-known previous work was the complex time-travel thriller, Looper, a film that wound up more of a mental challenge than an exercise in CGI.


Under Johnson, The Last Jedi is a mix of traditional Star Wars themes and surprising new developments. The film begins with another space battle in which Resistance ships try to bring down a much larger enemy ship, culminating in a very suspenseful sequence in which a newly introduced Resistance officer tries to drop a payload of bombs before her ship is destroyed. It’s pretty similar to what we’ve seen in almost every earlier film in one way or another, but Johnson generates some real suspense.


Much of the rest of what Johnson adds can’t be discussed in this review because it involves some major spoilers, but, on more than one occasion, audience expectations of what they know about characters change dramatically in a couple of seconds. Many of these plot developments will be stunners for the audience, and some go against the fabric of the general rules of morality that have been established in the Star Wars universe. Doubt, fallibility, and failure are a big part of The Last Jedi, with the question, perhaps to be answered in the next movie, becoming to what extent the characters learn and rise above their weaknesses and failures.


Of course, some purists won’t like the way everything changes. However, Lucasfilm and Disney are keenly aware that those “purists,” e.g., those who grew up on the original trilogy, are a dwindling number, for whom Hamill, Fisher, and even Harrison Ford hold no lasting appeal, and the need is to appeal to a new generation. Rian Johnson made the changes, but they undoubtedly met with corporate approval. Are they in keeping with the overall Star Wars concept and do they make for a good movie? I think they do.


In other regards, The Last Jedi fits right in with the other franchise works. It has all the usual elements: a wide variety of alien life forms thrown at the audience with little warning to be assimilated on the fly (the porgs, a cross between a penguin and a guinea pig, will be big winners with kids), first rate action sequences, starched shirt villains getting their comeuppance; force and dark side mysticism. But there are a few new wrinkles as well, such as the chambers of archvillain Snoke (Andy Serkis), the First Order Supreme Leader and spiritual heir to Emperor Palpatine. Instead of the usual black-and-white motifs popular with stormtroopers or the grays favored by most of the generals, his stormtroopers are red-clad, in a red room straight out of Edgar Allan Poe.


The most interesting dynamic in the film is that between the two younger characters in touch with the force: Kylo Ren and Rey. Johnson introduces a new element into the Force mythos, an ability of the two to communicate with each other practically at will, even though separated by a sea of planets and even though they are not able to fully visualize each other’s surroundings. A central theme in The Last Jedi is their ability to communicate with each other and the efforts they make to convert each other. The question of exactly how much good or evil is in each of them may not be totally answered here and could be one of the more intriguing aspects of the next film.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi is not a perfect film; it goes on too long with a couple of false endings. And at least one of the storylines involving the trip to the casino planet could have been trimmed. But it still bears comparison to Empire Strikes Back in one important way. It was Empire that revealed that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, a development that single handedly shaped the course of the entire franchise and changed the films from the light hearted escapism George Lucas first imagined to the powerful drama that has kept viewers coming back for over 30 years. It’s too soon to tell if any of the reveals in The Last Jedi will have a similar impact, but what Rian Johnson has done is the nearly impossible task of setting a mythos as massive as a battle cruiser on a new course.

In this featurette, Daisy Ridley discusses her training regimen for the movie.

Read other reviews of Star Wars: The Last Jedi: 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) on IMDb