It was hard to not be enthusiastic about Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it relaunched the movie franchise in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus. However, as time moved forward and less emotional thoughts prevailed, the shine became dull. In many ways, it was more a remake of the original Star Wars (1977) than it was a fresh beginning. And, in terms of doing something new, Rogue One was disappointing from the moment it was released a year later.
With what we saw in the last two years, I entered Star Wars: The Last Jedi with my expectations checked at the door. I am thrilled to report, though, that writer/director Rian Johnson has delivered exactly what I want in a Star Wars movie personally and, looking at the bigger picture, exactly what we all need in a Star Wars movie collectively. I have not been this excited after seeing a Star Wars movie since… well, I’m not sure I’ve ever been this excited.
The first thing you’ll experience is a fresh energy in the filmmaking. Camera movement is more fluid. Close-ups and angles are more varied. It looks and feels like a new kind of Star Wars movie. These technical achievements are even more extraordinary considering they take place during scenes of action where there is already rapid movement. Specifically, when ships exit from hyperspace, the effect is different than anything we’ve seen before. The next thing you’ll experience is how the story defies anticipation at every turn. At this point in the franchise, we’re trained to expect plot points that will happen next. For example, in the climactic lightsabre battle in The Force Awakens, when the abandoned weapon jiggles on the snowscape, you know it’s going to fly into the hands of Rey (Daisy Ridley). In The Last Jedi, when a lightsabre jiggles, you are truly surprised by where it goes.
This welcome disregard of expectations is consistent throughout the movie and keeps you on the edge of your seat. No scene ends as you might anticipate and, although this is the longest Star Wars yet at 152 minutes, it speeds along faster than a T.I.E. Fighter in pursuit of an X-Wing. Even the plot point regarding the identity of Rey’s parents somehow delivers a punch that I would never have imagined.
After watching The Last Jedi, you may also experience more respect for The Force Awakens. I didn’t realize at the time what a good job it did of laying solid groundwork for the characters. I didn’t know how much I cared about Rey, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) or Finn (John Boyega) until they’re put through the ringer here. And they are really put through the ringer. The circumstances for them and for the Resistance has never been more desperate.
It’s easy to say that The Last Jedi is a dark movie. However, that also makes it one of the most hopeful. By the time it ends, you honestly don’t know how the saga could continue in the way we know it. Yet there’s a final scene with potential to reinvent the entire franchise. This is definitely a unique direction for the second movie in a trilogy. It almost ends this cycle of films prematurely and sets the stage for something even more original in the next.The standout character is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). He was also good in The Force Awakens, but, like everything else in The Last Jedi, his character arc is unexpected. Just when you think you know where he’s headed, there’s a twist… several times over. This makes him a complex creation whose inner struggles mirror the other characters’ external struggles. Driver is excellent in the role, demanding your attention with his onscreen presence.
I’m hesitant to share any plot points, particularly those involving Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and General Leia (Carrie Fisher). However, if you’re paying attention to anything I’ve already written, you won’t be surprised to learn they both travel unexpected paths. I’m also hesitant to say much about the new characters, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and DJ (Benicio del Toro). They’re there and they’re significant, but they are perfectly integrated into the story.
In fact, I’ll just stop here, summarizing by using a sentiment similar to one a character may or may not express in The Last Jedi: Star Wars is dead, long live Star Wars! The time has come to move on. We love the past and we have paid tribute to it for long enough. We’re not forgetting it; it’s part of anything and everything that happens next. But imagine the possibilities that remain. Star Wars: The Last Jedi gives us hope both onscreen and off.