The unfollowed path: 'The Last Jedi' explores new aspects of the Star Wars Universe

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Photo: Lucasfilm)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
4 out of 5 Stars
Director:
Rian Johnson
Writers: Rian Johnson, George Lucas (based on characters created by)
Starring: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega
Rated:PG-13

Synopsis: Following the distraction of Starkiller Base, Rey turns to Luke Skywalker to teacher her the ways of the Force.

Review: “The Force Awakens” was a nostalgic trip that reminded audiences of why they fall in love with Star Wars in the first place. Seeing Han, Leia, Chewbacca and a host of other familiar characters revived that sense of magic and wonder. It felt like a triumph, even though it heavily relied upon the narrative of “A New Hope.” Essentially, “Th Force Awakens” played it safe and that ultimately was its greatest flaw. Still, it successfully introduced a host of new characters and revived the franchise. I’m still fond of the film, but going forward Star Wars was going to need to take some risks.

With “The Last Jedi,” Star Wars has done just that as director/writer Rian Johnson has crafted a film that feels unlike any of the series’ previous entries. There are thematic parallels, a few scenes that will remind audiences of “The Return of the Jedi” and a tone that, at times, is reminiscent of “The Empire Strikes Back,” but the film from start to finish has its own sense of self. For the first time, the ghost of George Lucas has shifted to the background.

It's not just about nostalgia anymore.

Johnson’s script is ambitious and so packed to the gills with plot that it will take multiple viewings before I feel comfortable enough to figure out where the film ranks. In the direct aftermath, I can say that “The Last Jedi” is what many will have hoped for, but there will be some who will recoil and long for the nostalgic trip of the previous films.

With “The Force Awakens” director J.J. Abrams had to juggle a mix of legacy characters while also introducing a host of fresh faces. This inevitably marginalized certain characters and drew the ire of some who felt that their favorites, both old and new, weren’t given the screen time they deserve. That is most certainly the case with “The Last Jedi” as even certain hallmarks of the franchise are only given glorified cameos. But the sky isn’t falling; this has always been the case. Lucas often introduced characters that had limited roles in the films, but were given rich and robust stories in the comics and novels. There is one particular character who deserves a much larger presence, but even in a 150-minute film there isn’t enough space to give everyone an extended stay in the spotlight.

The central narrative of “The Last Jedi” is bleak, but Johnson peppers the screen with visual gags and includes a multitude of funny moments that keep the dark nature of the story from overwhelming the experience. Many of the jokes, while funny, feel unnecessary. I don’t object to there being humor, the franchise has always had its share of pulpy melodrama that created a space for comedy in the films, but in this case it often felt like the laughter, while earned, slowed the momentum and undercut the impact of the story. My feelings regarding this particular criticism might change with additional viewings. I also suspect that there will be many who enjoy the levity. Don’t worry, even in his most gonzo moment, Johnson never strays too far from the mark; this isn’t “Thor: Ragnarok.”

“The Last Jedi” also explores some new aspects of the Force. Some of these have been hinted at before, but here they serve as major aspects of the narrative. There will probably be a few that mumble, “That’s not how the Force works,” while begrudgingly washing down a handful of popcorn with soda, but so be it. You can’t and shouldn’t try to appease everyone.

In a more perfect world I would have the opportunity to watch the film multiple times before passing judgement, but in this imperfect situation I have to say that if I were Rian Johnson, I’d be particularly proud of the film I crafted. It is bold, frequently beautiful and wisely different from what came before it.

Please, someone at least tell me that there is, or will be a Vic Admiral Amilyn Holdo novel.


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