As cliche as it is to talk about the preceding film before its sequel, I feel it is necessary. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was easily one of the single greatest experiences I had in a theater (right next to Mad Max: Fury Road and The Nice Guys) and reinvigorated a franchise that I hold near and dear to my heart. It was a great film, flawed in its overreliance to stick too close to the past few films.
It was comfortable in sticking to story threads and following the beats that A New Hope set in motion.
So now two years have passed and we have the next chapter in the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi. Out of the gate, it’s a messy, sprawling and ambitious film, and sees the franchise go into uncharted territory. Writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) clearly knows the risks he’s taking.
Thankfully, that all pays off into the greatest film in the franchise since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
To avoid potential spoilers, I’ll stick to the very basics of the plot. Taking place immediately after the end of The Force Awakens, the First Order is pushing through and taking out more and more resistance fighters. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) receives training by a now-recluse Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and tries to convince him to assist in the fight against the First Order.
The plot’s sense of urgency is one of the film’s many strengths. Death has played a huge part in the series, yet it feels like a massive threat in this movie. The dire situations each character finds themselves in carries a lot of emotional heft, one anchored by stellar performances. Specifically, Adam Driver as the tortured Sith Lord Kylo Ren is the highlight of them. He’s a tour de-force (no pun intended) and commands the screen. Even the more subtle scenes where he interacts with Rey are something amazing.
Mark Hamill also gives his best performance as the older Luke Skywalker. Shedding the brashness and innocence that the character is known for, Hamill is now the mentor, full of rage, regret and an infinite wisdom that only a Jedi master can have.
The performances compliment the tone of the film. It’s brutal, yet has its moments of humor, with some jokes landing and others missing the mark. Overall, it remains a consistent experience.
That is, until a jarring arc in the middle of the film takes viewers into this overly long journey with Finn (John Boyega) and new character Rose (Kelly Marie Tran). It isn’t the worst, but it does drag on for too long.
Even with that blemish in the second act, The Last Jedi really shines when it breaks series conventions. It’s a major slap in the face in some aspects but provides the biggest breath of fresh air all year.
While The Empire Strikes Back is still the best film in the series, The Last Jedi is easily a close second, providing some of the most exciting and downright surprising moments of almost any science-fiction this year.