December 20, 2017

Star Wars: Episode VIII—The Last Jedi Review

I just wanna touch my tongue to it for a second.

Episode VIII has finally arrived amid fanfare and Death Star-sized expectations it is doubtful The Empire Strikes Back could fulfill in the current internet-driven climate of instant overreaction. The Force is strong in The Last Jedi, and writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) accomplishes the first and arguably most important task of any storyteller entrusted with the new hopes of multiple generations: What he creates does not disappoint. Only once that goal is met can the film’s merits and flaws be considered.

The Last Jedi begins when new Jedi Rey (Daisy Ridley) returns Jedi Master Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) lost lightsaber. Luke’s immediate reaction sets the stage for the post-Empire galaxy, which Johnson fleshes out based on what was built by Episode VII’s J.J. Abrams. Concurrently, Luke’s sister, Gen. Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), and her fractured Resistance are under fire from a resurgent First Order. The skills of hotshot flyboy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and his loyal droid, BB-8, are needed if the Resistance is going to survive the attack by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Sith-in-training Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

Johnson tweaks a universe that may have seemed too familiar in Abrams’ crowd-pleasing reboot, and most of Johnson’s storytelling instincts prove right. The Last Jedi still surprises without betraying its well-established characters. The 30-plus-year wait for more Luke Skywalker held a multitude of awful options, and Johnson fortunately chooses none of them, even generously providing fans not one but two long-awaited exchanges. Hamill and Fisher imbue their characters with years of lived-in heroism, loss, betrayal and hope. They are Luke and Leia Skywalker (Leia’s throwaway cockpit line sounds like pure Fisher).

Favoring depth and advancement of character, The Last Jedi is the most verbose Star Wars since the early ’80s. Multiracial female leadership dominates the Resistance, while the First Order is where evil white dudes go to reign (and die). Though Finn’s subplot is bound to strain some fan patience, his meet-cute with Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose, as well as the ensuing pseudo-courtship, redeem what seems an extraneous trip to a previously unvisited corner of the galaxy. The film has some pacing issues that accentuate its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, but if the prequels taught us any lesson, it’s that more Star Wars is never a bad thing. 

Keep the faith when it grows logy; the finale is something to behold, giving characters old and new well-earned moments of epic heroism to set up a climactic Episode IX where the galaxy is the limit.