Anticipation was high for Rian Johnson’s follow up to The Force Awakens. Many looked to Johnson’s filmography and expected a movie that would break the mold, that would be something other than a spiritual successor to The Empire Strikes Back, much like The Force Awakens was to A New Hope. While many others and I love J.J. Abrams first entry into this trilogy, even with its structural and narrative similarity to the original, I am more than excited to say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi defies any and all expectations. This film is a game changer for the franchise and it is going to divide fans.
What makes The Last Jedi stand out is the consistent effort to put the audience in a position they never expected to be in as Star Wars fans. There is imagery that absolutely astonishes and jaw drops like nothing ever seen in the previous films. Further, much like we were warned by the cast and Rian Johnson himself, our heroes – especially Luke Skywalker – are not who and where we would expect them to be. Yes, Luke has become a recluse, but the layers and depth of his reasoning alone make this the most character-driven film in the franchise. Thankfully the movie doesn’t stop at Luke, but it peels back so much of the mystery and provides context for what drives Rey and Ben (Kylo). Johnson’s bold moves don’t stop with visuals or characters but carry into the narrative. As all other critics have said, the movie is filled with plot twists and shockers. There is no predicting where this movie is heading as you are sitting there and experiencing it for the first time.
Looking past the powerhouse direction, there is so much of that in the performances as well. Mark Hamill gives what is without a shadow of a doubt the best performance he has ever given. He is raw and puts everything he’s got into what Hamill has admitted to fundamentally disagreeing with. Every moment with him is one to cherish, as we have been without this character for so long. Audiences were left with an implied promise at the end of The Force Awakens that we would get something truly special from Luke in the proceeding film. That promise is met, and it is nothing audiences could have anticipated.
All of the new returning cast from the previous film is absolutely electric. The standout is Adam Driver as Ben Solo, who is unmatched when it comes to investing himself in a roll. On the screen, you do not see Adam Driver, you see Kylo Ren and Ben Solo; that is all that should be said when talking about this film in a spoiler-free manner. Completing the trilogy of standout performances is none other than Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. John Campea said it best in his review when stating, “She saved her best for last.” It just simply can’t be put better. It was truly the best way to say goodbye to Fisher in the role, since Kathleen Kennedy has confirmed that Fisher herself would not be in Episode IX. We miss you Carrie Fisher, and may the Force be with you.
While there are aspects of this movie that are clearly weaker compared to others, it shouldn’t reflect poorly on the film but instead highlight just how good the great parts are. Nothing in this film made me feel dissatisfied. Every question from The Force Awakens that was addressed here was done so in a way that made sense and didn’t leave lingering thoughts of “Really, that’s where that went?” Everything from character direction to action, to the narrative decisions, manages to astonish. The Last Jedi earns its place alongisde the other beloved films in the franchise with what you can tell is a lot of time and care, yet it feels effortless. The film is as triumphant as The Dark Knight, The Winter Soldier and especially The Empire Strikes Back.