STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI review by Mark Walters – Skywalker’s saga finally gets a true sequel

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI review by Mark Walters – Skywalker’s saga finally gets a true sequel

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In 2015, STAR WARS fans were given a long-awaited sequel in the form of J.J. Abrams’ THE FORCE AWAKENS, which brought back key members of the original cast, and introduced us to some new characters intended to carry forward the Lucasfilm legacy even further. The end result was mostly embraced, though some accused it of being a rather thinly-veiled remake of the first STAR WARS movie. This was likely intentional, and the filmmakers knew they had to win back the fan base after the much maligned prequel trilogy… so you go with a safe template, a familiar story that you know works rather than trying something new and risky. It proved successful, regardless of what the fans thought, as it went on to gross over a billion dollars worldwide. Now we’re getting the second entry of the new trilogy in the form of EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI, directed by Rian Johnson (LOOPER). So the question many wondered about is whether or not this entry would offer something new and unexpected, or just be more of the same familiar territory.

A note for those worried about spoilers – most of what you’ll read in the following plot description is basic story details, nothing terribly revealing. This movie is two and a half hours long, there’s a LOT I could have talked about that I didn’t. Instead, this is a breakdown of the basic narrative, most of which is revealed in the trailers and TV spots… it’s about as spoiler-free as you can get.

After an opening space battle in which The Resistance, led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), suffer many casualties, we’re taken back to the moment where things left off at the end of THE FORCE AWAKENS. Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on a secret island where she finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and hands him his old lightsaber. In the previous film, Rey found out she possessed the power of The Force, but was untrained and didn’t understand how to manage her abilities. She asks Luke to train her, but it’s obvious he considers his training days over and done, and does his best to push her away. Elsewhere, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) reports to his master, Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who calls him a failed dark lord, nothing like his lineage of Darth Vader… these words clearly bruise Ren’s ego. Back on The Resistance cruiser, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) reprimands Poe, and it’s revealed that their forces are dwindling, The First Order has all but wiped them out. General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and his Star Destroyers have found a way to track Resistance freighters while in lightspeed, turning the fight into a “beat the clock” scenario, as with low fuel The Resistance can’t just keep running away, especially now that they’ll never actually get ahead of their enemy. Finn (John Boyega), assisted by a Resistance tech worker named Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), must find a way to stop The First Order from catching up to their friends, while Rey struggles to find her purposes on the island with Luke.

That’s about the most I can say without getting into some pretty heavy spoiler territory. A bulk of the movie deals with The Resistance on the run in space trying to stay ahead of The First Order, which is quite a change from most of the STAR WARS movie narratives involving war plans and build ups to great battles… though rest assured, you still get some of that stuff before we hit the end credits. What’s perhaps most surprising about this newest entry is the amount of humor that’s been peppered in. Some of it is a bit much too, or at the very least feels out of place for a STAR WARS film, and it’s particularly surprising considering how Rian Johnson’s previous movie work always skewed to a more serious angle. And when I say humor, I don’t just mean fun lines that make you chuckle, I’m talkin’ full on sight gags and almost Mel Brooks-esque moments. It’s not offensive or anything, just a tad surprising as it doesn’t feel like any other STAR WARS movie in that regard. This might have been done retroactively with reshoots, perhaps adding some levity to a ultra-serious story, not really sure… but it does stand out. This is also for the most part a more simplistic story than the other films, just in terms of the basic narrative, so maybe the humor helps balance that aspect.

The acting on display is a mixed bag, with Mark Hamill easily being the standout in the end. Considering Mark had zero dialogue and not even a full minute of screentime in THE FORCE AWAKENS, he more than makes up for that here. This is the Luke Skywalker story, with a few other character peppered in… but make no mistake, Luke is the best part of this movie. Unlike Harrison Ford, who didn’t seem honestly concerned with recapturing Han Solo’s essence in the last movie (he seemed to just be playing any old Harrison Ford character), Hamill really gets what made Luke great and finds those subtle nuances while revisiting the role. There are aspects of the character here which are a bit surprising in this story, and may possibly be what Hamill was referring to when he stated earlier this year in interviews that (initially) he fundamentally disagreed with how Rian Johnson was handling Luke in this movie. This may not completely satisfy your hopes and dreams of how the Skywalker legacy should continue, but it’s an interesting and at times unexpected achievement that delivers something unique to the franchise. I’ll say this, as much as I love the character of Luke, I’m happy with what I got here. Carrie Fisher also has some great moments as Leia, even including a few scenes we as fans would desperately want delivered if done right. It’s heartbreaking to know this is her final performance as the character, unless they somehow figure out a way to include her likeness in EPISODE IX, but what we’re given here is very effective. You also definitely get the sense that the next movie would have been very Leia-centric in its narrative, so it’s that much more depressing to know she’s no longer with us. Regardless, she’s awesome here, and that’s what matters.

Surprisingly most of the shortcomings are with the newer characters. Separating Rey from the rest of the cast kind of hurts the character. Sure, she’s supposed to be training and finding herself, but her dynamic with Finn was part of what made THE FORCE AWAKENS so much fun, and that’s sadly gone here. Ridley does seem to be more comfortable in her performance, and there are some action moments that really elevate the coolness factor of her character within the franchise. Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren is a bit better this time out, as the temperamental child-like aspects that made him somewhat annoying in the first movie actually end up serving a purpose to the overall story here. There’s also some expansion on his dynamics with Rey that elevate the character a bit, and by the end of the movie I found him to be a more worthy and satisfying villain. John Boyega spends the bulk of the film partnered with Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, and their interaction is decent, but becomes somewhat awkward thanks to one particularly odd location during their mission, and a rather tacked-on element to their relationship toward the end of the film that seems to come out of nowhere. If you weren’t happy with how Finn failed against Kylo Ren in the last film, you’ll be very pleased with his big glory moment in this one against a different foe. Oscar Isaac as Poe is handled a bit differently here, and we see that he’s essentially being set up to play a larger role than just a hotshot pilot moving forward. Because of this, he’s not as active here, but does still manage to get some cool action hero dialogue. Laura Dern also plays an interesting new character, that goes in some unexpected directions, and has perhaps one of the better story arcs of any singular STAR WARS movie.

The biggest disappointment for me was the handling of Supreme Commander Snoke, played through motion capture quite well by Andy Serkis. This mysterious new figure was one of the most fascinating aspects of THE FORCE AWAKENS, leading to several fan theories and questions about his background and motivations… and the way he’s handled here is just kind of bland and forgettable. It’s a shame, as it really felt like this was a “bigger” character to work with, and the opportunities behind him are just never explored. There’s other things that were merely eluded to in the last film that never get paid off here, such as what happened to make Luke go into exile… we see super quick snippets of it, but they could have shown us so much more. Remember the line about “The Knights of Ren” in THE FORCE AWAKENS, the rogue trainees that helped Kylo Ren as he became evil? They even showed them in flashback. Yeah, they’re not even mentioned in passing here. Granted, at two and a half hours run time, I imagine certain stuff simply had to be cut, but the omission is nevertheless unfortunate. The old school droids C-3PO and R2-D2 also seem to be afterthoughts this time out, though R2 does get one particularly great sequence with Luke. BB-8, the ball droid introduced in THE FORCE AWAKENS, comes to the forefront here, and almost gets more hero moments than our lead characters… but always in a fun way.

All that said, THE LAST JEDI does something that THE FORCE AWAKENS never quite achieved – it feels like a true sequel to the original trilogy, and there’s a lot more connective tissue here to the original stories. Where THE FORCE AWAKENS came across as more of a remake of the first STAR WARS, this new movie feels more like its own thing. I can’t help but wonder how much of Rian Johnson’s vision was altered or “adjusted” by Disney and Lucasfilm, but the end result is still pretty satisfying and resonates the way you want it to. There’s an interesting choice for the last shot of the movie, which feels like it might have been more fitting for the last shot of EPISODE IX instead, but we’ll have to see where everything is going. If you can get past the long running time, and the sometimes excessive humor, and (I’ll just go ahead and say it) those sickeningly cute Porg creatures that are also a bit overdone in certain scenes, THE LAST JEDI should wow you enough to have you begging for more. I’ll add this – I can think of maybe one or two scenes in THE FORCE AWAKENS that I’d consider really cinematically powerful… I can think of at least five or six in this one, so that’s something to consider.

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI is scheduled for release December 15, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.