The complaints about Star Wars: The Force Awakens must have been heard and taken to heart as its sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is a substantially better film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens felt more like a rehash of key events from Star Wars: A New Hope than it did an original entry in the blockbuster sci-fi film franchise. Star Wars: The Last Jedi pays homage to the previous films while weaving a completely new tale that won’t be confused with prior Star Wars movies.
The events in The Last Jedi take place just minutes after the end of The Force Awakens. Rey hopes to impress on Luke Skywalker how much he’s needed in the Rebellion while learning all she can about The Force and Jedi. Elsewhere, General Leia Organa continues to take on the First Order and General Hux, while Kylo Ren does Supreme Leader Snoke’s bidding. Poe acts against orders and is stripped of his command, only to continue to disobey for what he believes is the good of the Rebellion. Finn teams up with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) for a secret mission, aided by a criminal named DJ (Benicio Del Toro) with specific skills. And while all of that matters, what’s really important is how our heroes band together to take on the First Order in epic action scenes that are some of the best of the franchise.
Working in Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s favor is a new sense of confidence on screen from the main players: Daisy Ridley as Rey, John Boyega as Finn, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Introductions are over and with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the personalities of these three pivotal characters are more fully fleshed out. The character arcs are more fulfilling in this sequel, particularly Ridley’s Rey. We cheered her on in The Force Awakens, but with The Last Jedi she cements herself as a force to be reckoned with and a heroine to look up to. She’s flawed and fallible, but loyal to a fault and steadfast in her beliefs. Plus, she’s a fierce fighter.
Kylo Ren is surprisingly sympathetic, to a point, and Adam Driver seems to have a real grasp on the character’s struggles. John Boyega’s Finn has earned hero status among the Rebellion, but he’s willing to risk everything to ensure the safety of Rey. Daisy Ridley’s Rey and John Boyega’s Finn have separate missions for much of the film, but when they do share screen time they recapture that special chemistry between the unlikely allies and now close friends.
Oscar Isaac is terrific at playing cocky, and Poe Cameron is even more so in The Last Jedi than he was in The Force Awakens. Isaac seems to really relish this role and his enjoyment in being a part of the Star Wars world is evident on screen. General Leia Organa admires his passion and flying skills, but is forced to demote him because of his difficulty following orders. Poe’s commitment to the Resistance is unwavering, but his leadership skills leave much to be desired.
The film’s also a fitting tribute to one of the most recognizable fictional characters of the past 40 years in movies. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is dedicated to the beloved Carrie Fisher whose impact and influence as Princess Leia was felt by innumerable young girls who embraced the strong female role model. Fisher’s General Leia is central to The Last Jedi and some scenes have a preternatural vibe, as though her sudden passing was somehow acknowledged before it occurred. (I realize that makes little sense, but when you watch the film there are two key scenes that raise goosebumps.)
As a diehard fan of the original trilogy, it was fantastic to see Mark Hamill once again actively involved in a Star Wars film. We’ve watched Hamill’s Luke Skywalker grow from a 19-year-old thrust into the role of a leader of the Rebellion to a Master Jedi who’s cut himself off from outside contact by isolating himself on a remote island. Star Wars: The Last Jedi reveals how he’s been passing the years spent away from his friends in the Resistance and advances Luke’s hero’s journey.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi also features great performances from supporting actors Domnhall Gleeson, who’s given much more to do this time around, Star Wars newcomer Laura Dern, and from Billie Lourd as Lieutenant Connix. Lourd, sporting her mom’s Princess Leia twin buns hairstyle, is elevated from barely seen and soon forgotten in The Force Awakens to a decent-sized role in this sequel.
Writer/director Rian Johnson was clearly the right choice to take charge of The Last Jedi. Johnson keeps the film flying along, mixing in the right measure of humor, heartbreak, and intense action sequences. Johnson also came up with the perfect amount of screen time for two of the film’s most talked about new creatures: the porgs and the crystal foxes.
The porgs are just insanely cute and their expressions are incredibly adorable. Even Chewbacca’s won over by the delightful seabird critters who were inspired by real-life puffins. (Did you know a baby porg is a porglet?) The crystal foxes are officially known as vulptices (the singular is vulptex) and show up toward the end of The Last Jedi. Although they have very limited screen time, their contribution to the story is huge. The porgs are a great merchandising gimmick and add some comic relief (you laugh just looking at them), but the crystal foxes are much more integral to the actual plot.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi delivers the Star Wars film we wanted with The Force Awakens but didn’t get. There are twists you won’t see coming and just when you think you’ve figured everything out, Rian Johnson pulls a rabbit out of his hat. This new trip to a galaxy far, far away is entertaining, fast-paced, and leaves us feeling hopeful about the state of the Star Wars franchise.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Running Time: 152 minutes
Release Date: December 15, 2017