STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI

When talking about movies, I sometimes get the question, “Hunter, do you like Star Wars?” Well, that’s a pretty easy answer. I like good movies, and some of the Star Wars movies are good, and some of them not so much. I genuinely love A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, which are both near-perfect adventure films with great, fun characters. The rest range from pretty good to terrible for me, so I can’t really say I’m a big “Star Wars fan”. Certainly not a fan enough to get excited for a new movie every year. There really needs to be a big spark of creativity to get me to care again. 

In Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, the dastardly First Order attacks the Resistance at their base, causing them to flee. Now being chased across the galaxy, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and the Resistance devise a plan to defeat the First Order. Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) locates Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island to get his help in the war. Reluctant to leave his reclusive lifestyle, he instead decides to train Rey in the way of the Force. While the good guys desperately try to outrun the bad guys in space, Rey trains with Luke, who starts to have reservations after witnessing Rey’s immense power. 

So, here we have it. Star Wars film 9/who knows? comes to the big screen. So, how is it? Well, I certainly enjoyed much more than The Force Awakens, and found it marginally better than Rogue One. My biggest issue with The Force Awakens was I found the characters to be very bland and safe, without a whole lot of depth. The only one I found interesting was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), as he actually had decent motivation and internal conflict. He’s still the most interesting character this time around, seemingly regretting murdering his father, straddling the line between good and evil. People say he’s whiny, but I say he’s a compelling villain with actual emotion. I couldn’t tell what direction they were going to take his character, and they still have my interest to see where he ends up. 

Even the boring characters from the last time are pretty good here. While Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is still the sarcastic quip machine that he was in The Force Awakens, he has a lot more to do here since the film is very militarily focused. When the going gets tough and he realizes the gravity of the situation, he’s all business. Isaac is an excellent actor who deserves more screen time, and he’s the most fun whenever we’re not focusing on the main story concerning Rey and Luke. Finn (John Boyega) is the not fun part of the B-story, still being totally flat with absolutely nothing really important, or cool to do. I really like Boyega as an actor, but his character is totally forgettable. He has a backstory that offers a lot of room for exploration, and they just give him a lame love interest? 

The real meat of the film is Rey learning the ways of the force through a crazy Luke Skywalker. She’s not just searching for training from Luke, but also any semblance of a parental figure. I felt her internal conflict about her past had much more depth this time around, especially how she goes through it while becoming in tune with the Force. This is the first time we ever actually get to see the more spiritual and metaphysical aspect of the Force, via some mind-bending hallucinations. It was neat seeing the Force visualized in such a way, and the way it’s expanded upon opens up a lot of creative avenues. I was consistently thinking, “Wow, that’s actually a pretty cool idea,” and genuinely surprised by some of the turns in the story. 

The biggest turn is with Luke Skywalker, now a crazed island hermit who couldn’t care less about saving the world. Feeling like he failed Kylo Ren as a master, he’s now decided it’s time for the Jedi order to end. The film is all about failures and lost hope, and I enjoyed having a Star Wars film adopt a more nuanced tone. Having Luke back to explore this side of the character is fascinating, as odd of an actor Mark Hamill is. I don’t think he’s bad, but he just has really weird line delivery and idiosyncrasies to his performances. However, he really understands who Luke Skywalker is, perfectly embodying the old, damaged master trying to run from his past mistakes. None of the characters are perfect here, each flawed in their own ways, but that’s what makes them compelling. You even have class acts like Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro breathing life into their miniscule roles. 

Well, that’s enough about characters, but that’s really the main reason why this film worked for me this time around. The Force Awakens also fell flat for me because it felt way too similar to A New Hope. While there are some story elements here that are very similar to Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, it doesn’t feel as beat for beat. There are actually some really neat creative decisions made here, with some being absolutely bizarre. If you ever wanted to see Luke milk an alien animal with suspiciously human looking breasts, here’s your chance. Even if the creative choices don’t all work, sometimes making me laugh at the film, I appreciate a filmmaker who will actually think a bit out of the box. Star Wars is supposed to be a massive, expansive universe. It deserves to get a little bit weird. 

I’m a big fan of writer/director Rian Johnson’s other work, and from the opening scene with campy acting and intense direction, it’s clear he understands Star Wars when it comes to tone and creativity. There’s still some forced humor and underdeveloped character moments that totally feel committee driven, but for the most part, it feels like a director with a genuine, distinct vision for this franchise. The creative story decisions opened the door to a lot of really fantastic effects, cinematography, production design, costumes, and worldbuilding. A lot of the context behind the First Order and the Resistance still doesn’t make much sense (which is the fault of The Force Awakens), but I was never bored throughout the character moments, nor the action scenes. Well, maybe near the middle and ending, where it drags with some superfluous action and plot points. Johnson has a great grasp on characters and thoughtful, creative storytelling, but his pacing and structuring has always been a bit off. Paired with some choppy editing, it sometimes feels all over the place, which is surprising since the plot is so simplistic. 

Even with some missteps, this is the first time since its resurgence that Star Wars hasn’t felt completely stale to me. Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is better than The Force Awakens in nearly every single way. In terms of characterization, storytelling, thematic depth, creativity, spectacle, and overall entertainment, it’s what Star Wars should be. It’s a shame that Johnson won’t be returning for Episode IX, going back to JJ Abrams to cap off this new trilogy. I’m sure we’ll get a retread of Return of the Jedi, but Johnson has been commissioned by Lucasfilm to create an entire new trilogy after this one. While I’m really starting to get tired of this whole Star Wars thing now, if creative filmmakers are able to continue execute their visions like this, then it can’t be all bad. 

7.5/10

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