Despite Its Warts, The Last Jedi Is A Solid Second Wind For The Saga

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Mark Hamill, Ocar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Domhnall Gleeson and Carrie Fisher
Rated: PG
Running Time: 2 Hrs, 32 Mins

As much as I was looking forward to The Last Jedi, I was equally cautious as well. Would it be a carbon copy of The Empire Strikes Back, something many felt The Force Awakens was of A New Hope? Was it worth with the hype and the wait? What if it ignored the good things Awakens did (particularly setting up Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren as an irredeemable force of evil)? Would my nerd heart be able to take it?

In the end, The Last Jedi is a solid (though not perfect) second wind for the franchise. But while it potentially sets the tale for something excellent to complete the trilogy, it still has enough warts to warrant caution moving forward.

Video: Star Wars

With The Republic now in ashes, the remainders of the Resistance flee a vengeful First Order bent on destroying it once and for all. Lead by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher), the Resistance soon discovers escape is impossible and rest their hopes on a desperate mission by former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance fighter Rose Zico (Kelly Marie Tan). Unable to escape and limping along, the doubt and friction that grows among the Resistance ranks becomes just as much a threat to its survival as the merciless fleet hunting it.

While the Resistance stares down certain destruction, Rey (Daisy Ridley) discovers that the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has no interest in returning to the Resistance or in teaching her the ways of the force. But while Rey tries to convince a stubborn Skywalker to mentor her, its revealed that she and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) share a rapport through the Force that spans the gulf of space. The two begin forging a unlikely relationship, each convinced they can “turn” the other and lead their side to victory.

So, let’s get into this.

The biggest criticism levelled at The Force Awakens was that it was essentially a retelling of A New Hope. There were definitely times Awakens felt like the original Star Wars starring a handful of new characters and wearing some new CGI clothes. And while it doesn’t depend on the blueprint of previous films as heavily, The Last Jedi also borrows from previous films (particularly The Empire Strikes Back).

It’s dependence on previous material occasionally hamstrings its ability to forge its own identity and I would’ve preferred it spend more effort trying to achieve its own independence.

And for a movie that cost hundreds of millions to make, some of the action beats felt a little lacking. There was one duel in particular I found a little disappointing and it would have been well worth it for everyone involved to invest a little more screen time and effort into that face off.

The Last Jedi is essentially two movies crammed into the space of one, each one beneath the same narrative umbrella. The first half is paced really slowly with a handful of solid action scenes sprinkled here and there to keep your interest. But the second half more than makes up for it. The last hour of Jedi is what’s really worth your admission.

There are some spectacular visuals and The Last Jedi has more than a few impressive tricks up its sleeve. There were at least two ‘whoa’ moments for me and I couldn’t help but murmur “wow” out loud both times. Those moments-along with a handful of nice space battles-deserve to be seen in 3D or on an IMAX screen. You’re doing yourself an injustice if you settle for watching this movie in traditional 2D.

While it’s always nice to see the golden oldies (it was a treat seeing Mark Hamill as a cranky old Luke Skywalker and seeing Carrie Fisher as Leia tugged a few heartstrings), the newbies definitely made this trilogy their own. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega all turned in excellent performances, establishing themselves as the new caretakers of the Star Wars saga. Oscar Issac was more than convincing as Poe Dameron, the hot head pilot whose fierce loyalty to the Resistance sometimes blinds him to common sense.

And there’s no reason for BB-8 fans to worry, the spherical little droid gets plenty of screen time and even a few hero turns of his own.

There’s plenty of character growth among the leads, both hero and villain alike. Each character grows boldly and fearlessly into their respective roles in the franchise, setting the table for a potentially explosive third film. As always, the themes of self sacrifice and redemption are ever present, but surprisingly so is betrayal and deception. Mild spoiler alert; the good guys aren’t the only ones to get double crossed.

Letting go of the past is also a major theme, appropriate since this is likely the last film that will star any original characters in major roles. If The Force Awakens was about brushing thirty plus years of dust off the franchise and introducing new characters, The Last Jedi is about passing the torch to the next generation entirely.

Will the third film in the trilogy be able to answer all the nagging questions fans have while wrapping up the story? Will it be able to stretch its legs enough (now that the trilogy has unshackled itself from the previous films) to do the new characters justice? I’m not entirely confident it will.

But here’s the thing; I do feel The Last Jedi was worth the wait (though a few less yawns during the fist half wouldn’t have hurt) and I will be looking forward to the third and final film in the new trilogy. In short, The Last Jedi successfully keeps my appetite for all things Star Wars, and this story in particular, healthy.

The Last Jedi isn’t perfect, no matter how much we al want it to be. And it proves there’s still about a 50/50 chance this whole thing can still go off the rails. But Jedi’s biggest success is that it potentially frees the third film from the original trilogy. It provides a complete break and grants the final film a blank slate.

At the end of the day, Jedi also proves that there’s an equally good chance that the final chapter could very well be a home run and the franchise deserves a chance to tell that story.