Wow, I can’t believe both of Rey’s parents were Porgs! Why didn’t I see that one coming?
Oh, sorry. Spoilers.
Just kidding, of course. Anyhow, after a brief and unnecessary sidestep, leaving the dreary and self serious Rogue One: A Star Wars Story spin off in the rear-view, we’re now officially back on track with the Star Wars franchise proper and more at home within the reliably optimistic and classical-feeling main thread with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. At the very least, it’ll be nice to take a break from our increasingly dystopic reality and once again escape into a fantasy world where a hideous looking, fascist-adjacent ruler and his supreme force of unquestioning followers and useful idiots face off against an earnest but hopelessly outmanned resistance trying to prevent the evil regime from taking over the world and spreading their evil across the entire – oh, godammit…
Seeing as how this is a Star Wars film, and fans are understandably more wary of spoilers here than with any other franchise out there, I’ll try to keep plot details to a minimum and just cover the basics off the top: The Last Jedi quite literally begins right where The Force Awakens left off, and continues the story from there…..Yup… Well… that’s really all you need to know, if you want to go in completely fresh. For more casual viewers, it merits mentioning that Luke Skywalker (a returning Mark Hamill) plays a larger role in this, having been successfully tracked down by the person who emerged as the true hero in The Force Awakens (as well as the trilogy overall), Daisy Ridley’s scavenger turned Jedi-in-training, Rey. Meanwhile, the Resistance is still here, fighting the good fight against the First Order and Adam Driver’s conflicted Sith-in-training Kylo Ren, and are still being led by General Leia, portrayed once again by the late Carrie Fisher, who fortunately finished shooting all of her scenes in this before her untimely passing almost a year ago. Aided by another reliably thumping John Williams score, we’re back in the Star Wars universe! Oh, and there are Porgs now, too. Lots and lots of Porgs.
Much like the recently premiered second season of Stranger Things, it seems like the creative minds at work were paying attention to the fan reactions from the first time around and knew what people liked and didn’t like about The Force Awakens, so they were more aware of what not to do here and also what people wanted to see more of. This includes giving side characters from the first film more screentime and development, namely Oscar Issac’s cocky pilot Poe Dameron, who has a much larger role to play in the story this time around, apart from his more preferred mode of just flying around in an X-wing and blowin’ shit up. Also improved upon from the previous films (and I would include Rogue One in this as well) is the enlarged sense of scope and scale to the film. The world-building on display here is unparalleled in the rest of the franchise, feeling at once massive in size while also somehow seeming nurtured and lived in. In terms of the sheer size and weight of the settings, The Last Jedi more closely resembles the Lord of the Rings trilogy at times, moreso than anything else we’ve seen from this series up to this point.
While The Last Jedi is no doubt another satisfying and enjoyable entry into the Star Wars series, it is most certainly not without fault. That being said, this one is interestingly flawed in a different way than its predecessor, The Force Awakens. Whilst that film was fundamentally more conventional and derivative, The Last Jedi is more ambitious and genuinely surprising at times, but is also overstuffed and crowded to a fault, with enough subplots and side characters to fill a whole other feature. Despite its overarching similarities to A New Hope, The Force Awakens at least moved a lot better and had a stronger pace and kept its story going forward with a sense of urgency and purpose, whereas The Last Jedi completely screeches to a halt at some points and could’ve been trimmed by at least ten minutes, and not have lost much in the long run.
There’s one midpoint side-quest in particular that distracts from the main thread of the film considerably (involving a brief diversion to a casino planet, which features some unusually forced social commentary about animal cruelty and child slavery, of all things), and once you see where it all leads, it could’ve quite easily have been glossed over without much detriment to the overall flow of the narrative; to say nothing of the fact that it almost feels as if it hearkens back to – dare I say it? – the Prequel trilogy (dun dun DUN)! Director Rian Johnson commented before this film’s release that his first cut of the film ran for over three hours long, and while the version that’s in theaters now sits at a much more comfortable 2.5 hours (the longest Star Wars film yet), I’d be lying if I said that one more pass in the editing room would’ve been a waste of time.
Warts and all, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a wholly satisfying and enjoyable entry into the ever growing and expanding Star Wars series. In both the context of the fictional universe of the film and the broader real-world cultural context, this film is about honoring the past and giving it proper consideration before literally burning it to the ground and making way for a brand new generation to take over and inherit the mantle.
While the film may be a bit too crowded and overly-ambitious for its own good at times, it needed to give us enough meat to chew on for two whole years until the next Star Wars flick comes out (ignoring the pointless and sure-to-be-garbage Han Solo prequel spinoff), so who are we to complain? For all its faults, The Last Jedi provides more than just fleeting, momentary thrills and spills, but it changes and advances the whole mythology of the Star Wars canon forward and usurps the status quo of the franchise in such thoughtful, unexpected ways that is really clears the path for the series to go in any number of interesting directions, which is more than we could say for this franchise in quite some time.