NOTE: In the interest of preserving the theatrical experience for viewers, this review is as spoiler-free as possible. It touches on themes and includes overall impressions, but it does not contain any specific details about the plot aside from what has been shown in trailers.
When The Force Awakens debuted in 2015, it was the first Star Wars movie in over a decade and the first one released under the Disney banner. It quickly became one of the biggest movies of all time, smashing nearly every record and thrilling viewers young and old around the world. The Force Awakens reintroduced fans to their beloved classic characters while simultaneously ushering in a new band of heroes to root for in the fight against the forces of evil. Now, two years after the film’s cliffhanger ending, Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi picks up immediately where the last episode left off—a first for the franchise. And boy, does it deliver.
The galaxy is reeling in the wake of the First Order’s devastating attack on Hosnian Prime. Without its capital, the New Republic is in shambles and vulnerable to Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) forces. The galaxy’s only hope rests in a small band of Resistance fighters led by General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Desperate for help, Leia sends Rey (Daisy Ridley) to an island on the remote world of Ahch-To to seek out Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) training and assistance, but the welcome she receives isn’t quite what she’s expecting. As director Rian Johnson has said in the run-up to the film’s release, sometimes meeting your heroes isn’t always what you expect. This is a recurring theme throughout the 150-minute story, the longest Star Wars film to date.
The Last Jedi is a much more personal tale. The galaxy in peril merely serves as a backdrop for what is essentially a character study of Luke, Leia, Rey, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and the rest. Rian Johnson expertly delves into each character’s psyche to learn what makes them tick, and each one faces a unique challenge that Johnson weaves together to form a brilliant tapestry. What could drive Luke to go into exile when the galaxy is at stake? Why is Kylo Ren so consumed with hate that he would kill his own father? Where did Rey come from and what is her purpose in life? These questions and more are what drive the core of The Last Jedi. Each character big and small receives a satisfying arc, including newcomers Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), and DJ (Benicio del Toro). Rose is certain to become an instant fan-favorite, and Holdo is both intriguing and surprising. To say much more would spoil the fun, but these characters are a welcome addition to an already fantastic cast.
As the middle act of the trilogy, The Last Jedi is much darker than its predecessor. In many ways, it feels very similar to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, while still being different enough to stand on its own. In fact, part of The Last Jedi‘s brilliance is the way in which it subverts expectations. Just when you think you know where it’s going, the film pulls the rug out from under you to great effect. But while the film is dark—necessarily so—it’s also quite funny and emotional. Humor abounds throughout the film in classic Star Wars style, helping to balance out what would otherwise be a somewhat grim tale of desperation in the face of overwhelming odds. And there are enough touching moments to melt even the Emperor’s heart.
Over the last two years, the questions raised by J.J. Abrams in The Force Awakens have been debated ad nauseam by fans. While some of these secrets are still left unanswered by the end of The Last Jedi, fans will walk out of the theater with satisfying conclusions to many of the trilogy’s biggest questions.
The film’s cast deliver stellar performances, especially Mark Hamill who famously only showed up at the end of The Force Awakens with not a single line of dialog. Watching another Star Wars movie with Mark Hamill in the starring role feels like coming home, although Luke is a bit different than we remember. And Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia is excellent, even if the knowledge that she’s no longer with us makes it bittersweet. New locations like Canto Bight and Crait add fascinating glimpses into other parts of the galaxy, and the production design, effects, and sound are all top-notch. The Last Jedi features some of the most beautiful cinematography ever seen in Star Wars, and John Williams’ score is once again a masterpiece—even though, as with The Force Awakens, it doesn’t necessarily jump out at you on the first viewing.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi delivers on everything we’ve been waiting for over the last two years and, arguably, the three decades before that. The film features one of the most epic moments in Star Wars history, and more than a few surprises that are sure to please fans. And yes, the porgs are extremely cute. As Luke Skywalker says in the second theatrical trailer, “This is not going to go the way you think.” The Last Jedi is not a film to be missed.
For more on Star Wars: Episode VIII The Last Jedi, listen to the Ion Cannon Podcast’s spoiler-free review. And stay tuned for their full-spoiler review this weekend after the movie hits theaters on Friday, December 15. Images courtesy of Lucasfilm and via Vanity Fair.
Update: Our full spoiler-filled review is now available!Powered by Sidelines