Big, bold and beautiful. It’s hard to describe Rian Johnson’s achievements here any other way. This is the kind of Star Wars film that lives up to the grandeur of the title: high stakes galore, with whopping intergalactic conflicts, no clean moral divides, and drama within an inch of all lives depicted. It’s a madder, trickier vision than what J. J. Abrams devised for The Force Awakens, eschewing the nostalgic retreads that made that movie a little too familiar for its own good. The Last Jedi decides to chart its own path, oftentimes into territory this franchise has barely dipped its toe in. Most significantly, the legend at its centre is no longer a tidy beacon of exalted heroism in his old age, but a disillusioned hermit who knows he’s responsible for a lot of the ill plaguing the film’s current climate. I guess longtime fans would have reason to quibble with this “sacrilegious” treatment, but these risks are warranted if this trilogy is to hold up down the road.
Among the other things to like here: the fact that the Resistance is imperiled and on the brink of defeat for a good 95% of the film, making it clear that they’re not impervious; the interplay between Rey and Kylo Ren, which gives the latter more development than simply being a Darth Vader wannabe; Laura Dern headlining the film’s defining moment; those fabulous space nuns; powerful women cutting Poe Dameron down to size (though I still love Oscar Isaac’s portrayal); Snoke’s Cries and Whispers red chamber; the red salt planet, whose bloodlike imagery feels like the perfect analog to this film’s métier; and really those final 30 minutes, which are so incredibly played by all involved.
Like most, I’m not a big fan of Finn and Rose’s side adventure, which has the air of a spinoff story being tacked onto the main narrative (probably to give Finn a purpose, since Rey is doing her own thing with Luke). Apart from showcasing the power of hope on a younger generation, it’s not as well integrated into the seams of the larger story as it could’ve been. Does it derail the film? No, it doesn’t, because the characters involved are still interesting, and it advances Finn’s personal development in a satisfactory way. And, truthfully, I’d rather have Finn do something than be incapacitated for an entire film.
Another great thing about The Last Jedi: it doesn’t make guessing at Episode IX’s plot any easier. The only certainty is that Carrie Fisher won’t have new scenes in it, and that’s still a tough pill to swallow after her wonderful performance in this one. A Star Wars film without its original three heroes is going to be a strange sight. I’ve no doubt J. J. Abrams will pull it off, though.