Star Wars: The Last Jedi is so good that it will thrill and surprise everyone from the first generation of fans to its newest recruit. It reaffirm to all the power of the force. This film, as written and directed by Rian Johnson, moves the saga forward dramatically, but in truth, it is all about character.
The Last Jedi is unquestionably Johnson’s baby, which given how controlling the LucasFilm powers-that-be can be, speaks to their faith in his vision. When asked how he approached crafting the story, Johnson said, “This is the 2nd chapter. The Force Awakens created these vibrant new characters, it was the job of this movie to pick them up and really test their mettle and put them through their paces.”
It’s best not to discuss any plot points. Fans already know Luke Skywalker is in the movie, because he’s the biggest character on the one-sheet poster. Audiences will learn more about the characters they’ve always known and loved, and more about both the sophomore and freshman classes. As to those from A Force Awakens, Poe, Rey, Kylo, and Finn equally get their chance to shine, and show the complexity and motivations of their characters. There are also some great new additions to the cast. Most notable is Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico and the dynamic she brings to her scenes with John Boyega. In an interview, Tran talked about why. “From the beginning we clicked during the audition process. I don’t think there’s a better partner anyone could have when you’re going into a movie like this.” Their chemistry is undeniable.
Kelly Marie Tran also talked about the continued theme in the Star Wars Universe of having strong self-aware female characters. “From the beginning, the Star Wars films have always been groundbreaking in that way. What keeps people interested is they continue to do so.” Another new strong female character portrayed by Laura Dern has a very interesting arc we see unfold in what almost feels like real time. The potential for spoilers dictates no more is said about her role, or that of other Star Wars newcomer Benicio Del Toro, but they fold themselves and their storylines convincingly into the saga.
With all the newer members of the cast, lovers of the franchise can rest easy about the old guard. Carrie Fisher’s Leia is luminous, as always. Her swan song took a 1977 ingenue albeit fearless princess, and turned her into both a general, and a powerful wise-woman. Even at that, it is Luke’s story that is most enriched, having several wow moments that legitimately rival the last act of A New Hope.
As to the expanded diversity in The Last Jedi, it’s not something that hits the audience on the head, but really feels right. In a story where there is conflict and resistance, it makes sense that those who believe in freedom and equality would be coming from every perspective and gender, as well as a wide variety of alien species.
Visually, the audiences are brought through everything from cityscapes, to deserts, vast galactic spaceships, and desolate island landscapes. Some of the most exciting scenes of dogfights in space take us through such spectacular environments they will make your eyes pop.
Also, as one would expect, there are some spectacular sets, and, as has always been the case for the films of Star Wars, there is a great balance of the real and the digital. Says Johnson, “We had a huge amount of practical sets for this film. Part of the lived-in feel of Star Wars is something we really wanted to capture. At the same time, the other end of Star Wars is constantly pushing the envelope in terms of special effects.” “Rian’s script at first count had something like 160 sets,” said production designer Rick Heinrichs, (Pirate of the Caribbean, Beetlejuice), but they wound up with around 125 sets where it was filmed at Pinewood Studios in England, as well as other locations around the world. For example, they built a cave that was changed and relit to work for three other settings.
There’s so much going on it’s almost impossible to remember the entire story (not that it would be shared in this review..) Which of course, may be a ploy to get audiences all to see it multiple times. At 2 hours and 23 minutes, it is definitely on the long side, and there are so many plot threads it feels like they could get knotted up in the viewer’s brain. It’s possible there’s an even better movie that could have been carved out in the editing room. However, a shorter film might have sacrificed the strong character development, which is what will remain with fans long after the credits roll.
Lovers of Star Wars are incredibly lucky to have Johnson at the helm, who is clearly a super-fan of the saga. He took the stories, archetypes and mythology, and expanded and enhanced it in nearly every way.