NOTE: While this is a review of The Last Jedi, it does not contain any spoilers regarding plot or characters. However, the tone and atmosphere are discussed at length. If you wish to remain 100% spoiler-free, feel free to come back and read this review after you have seen the film.
The Last Jedi comes roaring into theaters this week, with the prerequisite hype and gargantuan expectations so many of us have felt since the last few moments of The Force Awakens, in December 2015. Rian Johnson is the writer and director of this film and elevates Star Wars in ways I never realized I wanted. The new addition to the mythos is a thrill ride from beginning to end. It’s a gorgeous film, with breathtaking imagery, nuanced characters, and fearless moviemaking. I have never felt so on fire for this franchise, and that is saying something.
The Last Jedi takes place immediately after the events of The Force Awakens. Rey had just found Luke Skywalker on the remote world of Ahch-To, and preceded to hand him his lightsaber (thought to have been lost at the end of The Empire Strikes Back). What happens next is indicative of The Last Jedi; a well-crafted, mesmerizing blend of nostalgia, pathos, and humor, with a newfound gravitas unlike anything found in a previous Star Wars film. This is a bold new Star Wars that is refreshing and honest.
It also contains a maturity I never realized was missing from previous iterations. Much of this stems from Mark Hamill, who delivers a truly captivating performance. The legacy of Luke Skywalker (both in popular culture, as well as in the Star Wars universe) is heavy, and Hamill balances this in mesmerizing fashion. You cannot take your eyes off of him. He brings a seriousness to the character that, for all of Luke’s importance to this franchise, has never been exhibited to this degree. The fate of the galaxy seems to weigh on the shoulders of this iconic character, and he brings a paradoxical blend of curmudgeonly mentorship, charm, weight, and humor. Hamill gives an absolutely brilliant performance.
The entire tone of the film is nuanced and full of gravitas. There are moments here that will leave you gasping, to be certain. But, it still provides the luster on the cinematic gem that is Star Wars. It’s got some moments that are dark, as well as many moments of light. In fact, the entire movie is about balance; it is funny, in unexpected ways, but with purpose. There are no throwaway laughs, either. Each comedic moment serves to elicit laughter, while also continuing to foster characterization.
All of the returning characters bring something unique to the table as well. While it is difficult to address each of them without revealing too much, I will say that Rey (Daisy Ridley) is more self-assured, focused, and persistent (her chemistry with Mark Hamill adds a lot to the film). She is on a mission to find her purpose, and help Luke Skywalker reconnect with his. The results of this … well, let’s just say, is worth the price of admission. Rose (played delightfully by Kelly Marie Tran) is a wonderful addition and has one of the most poignant lines in the film. Also of note is (as portrayed by Laura Dern) Amilyn Holdo, who deftly maneuvers through each scene with poise and strength. This is echoed, of course, by Carrie Fisher’s last performance as General Leia. Prepare to be enchanted one last time.
As far as Kylo Ren goes, Adam Driver takes him to another place, with perhaps greater intensity and unparalleled ferocity. Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) and Finn (John Boyega) are also back, but they both have much different roles than in The Force Awakens. This is in tune with the rest of the film. It’s familiar, but so much different. Each Star Wars film has captivated me in unique ways, but I’ve never felt more emotion coursing through me than when I watched The Last Jedi. Rian Johnson’s vision is a testament to the power of film, and its ability to take us places we never thought possible, through laughter, tears, and wonder.
The Last Jedi has done for Star Wars what The Dark Knight did for superhero films: it elevates the genre to a cinematic art form. The movie takes Star Wars into bold new places while maintaining the sheer joy and escapism that encapsulates the best moviegoing experiences. In essence, the Star Wars bar has been raised, thanks to the genius of Rian Johnson. The Last Jedi is brilliant; an absolute masterpiece.
5 out of 5
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