Review: Exhilarating “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” blazes a new path for franchise

As we learned two years ago in the opening crawl for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, our hero Luke Skywalker is the last Jedi left in the Star Wars galaxy. But as Yoda noted all those years ago in Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, “there is another”. Fans have waited long enough for what Luke does when he is confronted by a hopeful Rey, holding out his long lost lightsaber, at the end of The Force Awakens, but director Rian Johnson resists the urge to heavily focus on the complicated relationship between the (presumed) master and apprentice, preferring to take a step back and properly set up a story that twists and turns in unexpected paths — not the least of which is Luke’s reluctance to train more Jedi after his failure teaching Ben Solo/Kylo Ren.

Indeed, the relationship and interplay between Luke, Rey, and Ben as a parallel to the push and pull of the light and the dark side of the Force is at the center of The Last Jedi. As much as we want to believe one side is “good” and one side is “bad”, in this episode Johnson smartly retools our expectations and makes us reconsider everything as Rey is eager to begin her training in earnest. But as Luke keeps asking her, why does she truly want to be there with him? Alternately, why is Luke, who was always the most optimistic Star Wars character so willing to prove there was good in his father, so cynical about the Jedi order and unwilling to help save the Resistance’s effort to stop the First Order from taking over the galaxy?

Leia is desperate for her brother’s return, a new hope essentially, after so many years in hiding as she tries desperately to withstand the First Order and Carrie Fisher’s final movie is a wonderful tribute to her legacy. With Harrison Ford’s Han Solo surprisingly such a main focus of The Force Awakens, it’s Luke and Leia’s turn this time around and both turn in magnificent performances. Daisy Ridley does a fine job with Rey, a little older and wiser and her character shines because of it, as does John Boyega as the brave and passionate Finn and Oscar Isaac as the hotshot Resistance pilot Poe Dameron. Adam Driver quite possibly might be the best of the bunch in his portrayal of the conflicted Kylo Ren but to explain why would reveal too much about the film, which is best enjoyed spoiler-free. Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran also dazzles in the role of Rose Tico, bringing humor and warmth to a new character that teams up with Finn on one of the more original and thought-provoking missions in a Star Wars movie, the ramifications of which I have a hunch will reverberate into the final chapter of the first Lucasfilm trilogy from Disney.

Johnson manages to balance everyone’s screen time equally and each character’s story arc, much like the movie as a whole, takes surprising twists and turns throughout. So much so, in fact, that the film – at a robust 2 hours and a half – almost begs for an immediate repeat viewing just so it can be rewatched so you can sit back, relax a bit, and take in the many excellent performances from the entire cast as well as fully enjoy some of most gorgeously framed shots in any Star Wars film.

Above it all is Hamill’s incredible performance, and though he may have resisted some of Johnson’s surprising choices for Luke’s character, it may have been for the best as it fuels every second that Luke is in the film. Ultimately, his role in The Force Awakens being reduced to essentially a cameo was indeed a wise decision by J.J. Abrams because it would have overpowered everything else going on in the first film. With room to stretch out at an altogether different story pace, Skywalker’s past and present can be fully explored. Through his path from farm boy to legendary hero to a recluse in hiding, Luke has always surprised with each appearance since A New Hope. The Last Jedi more than makes up for Luke’s minimal screen time in The Force Awakens while also never losing sight of the bigger picture.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in U.S. theaters on December 15, 2017.

Photos ©2017 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

 

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