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Very Strong With The Force ‘The Last Jedi’ Is (Movie Review)

Hype for a film is never higher than when it comes to Star Wars. Forty years with this franchise and the world still has an intensive care for what is going to happen next in a galaxy focused on hokey religions and ancient weapons. Writer/director Rian Johnson is fully aware of this and still decided to take on the responsibility of following up The Force Awakens, which happens to be one of the most successful films of all time. Fortunately for him and those many fans around the world, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an outstanding success. The film is both familiar and the most ambitious entry since George Lucas’ last foray into this series.

As I had expected, Johnson’s plan was much different than J.J. Abrams’. While Abrams’ The Force Awakens was a perfectly enjoyable film on its own, the work done there was meant to re-familiarize everyone with the spirit found in the original Star Wars trilogy. Sure, it added new characters and had ideas of its own, but it is a safer movie compared to The Last Jedi. It’s the reason to get Abrams, as he’s great with characters and emulating certain tableaus for the sake of a familiar feel. With that out of the way, The Last Jedi takes some real chances, digging deep into the characters, challenging the views of each of them, and testing the limits when it comes to the dark and light side of the force.

Johnson has developed a story revolving around the function of every character and delivers on it by breaking each of them down. By doing this, the audience gets a greater sense of what makes each character unique as well as see what would happen if you inverted their qualities. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is brave, fierce and optimistic, so the film will challenge her commitment to fighting for what’s right by exploring why she’s so headstrong and stubborn as well. Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron is the best pilot in the galaxy, so the film finds ways to question what it means for him to be a leader when not sitting in a cockpit. These sorts of challenges are seen in all of the characters, and despite separating many of them from each other, it never ceases to intrigue thanks to the added complexity within a universe that’s always exciting and expanding.

And what excitement there is! While this may be the most contemplative and theology-driven entry of the Star Wars saga since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, the film does not hold back on its spectacle. At 152 minutes, this is the longest Star Wars film yet and a truly epic space opera not short on breathtaking moments. An early space battle sets the stage for things to come. Chases and fights are weaved into the film appropriately. The final forty minutes deliver almost non-stop action. None of it ever feels contrived, as Johnson has an excellent understanding of how to appropriately set the stage and pay off many scenes with grand sequences full of spaceships, lightsabers, and rousing music by John Williams.

One must have a great sense of focus and open-mindedness when attempting to pull off a film of this magnitude and Johnson would not get far without so much support from a talented list of people.  There’s more to say about some of the actors, but this is a great cast, and their work will not go unnoticed. The sense of rhythm for a long film like this and some incredibly tense moments, let alone how certain cuts are made to emphasize the ample amount of humor means giving plenty of credit to editor Bob Ducsay. There is also some incredible cinematography on display thanks to Johnson’s frequent collaborator Steve Yedlin. Going from the high school setting of Johnson’s low-budget debut film, Brick, to the massive universe of Star Wars means finding the essence of cinema in a production blending all types of visual effects, locations and more. Yedlin has accomplished this and has helped create one of the best shot films for this franchise.

Another exciting prospect concerning the cinematic value of The Last Jedi, Johnson has put the Akira Kurosawa back into Star Wars. There are undoubtedly other influences kept in mind for the story presented in this film, but if Star Wars was heavily influenced by Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Rashomon seems to have been put into effect here. In addition to clear samurai imagery, The Last Jedi digs into the minds of some of these characters and allows their understandings to be shaped based on various interpretations of stories and legends. By doing this, it means the film knows how to effectively let the characters grapple with their placement in this far away galaxy and consider the alternatives to their destinies.

Three characters specifically come to mind. One is Rey, who I’ve already mentioned. The others are Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Luke Skywalker (a superb Mark Hamill). Thanks to manipulations, personal struggles and the power of the force, each of them are given time to show their inner turmoil and express it through various means of emotion that make up a good portion of the film. It doesn’t hurt that each of these performances is stellar. Ridley continues to show why she became such a breakout star in The Force Awakens. Driver harnesses his intensity to an even great effect. Hamill has grown a lot as an actor since 1977 and has a lot to work with as far as portraying a more serious Luke who still has the spirit of a sweet farmboy from Tatooine.

The segments involving Luke and Rey have a considerably different pace than the rest of the film but are just as effective thanks to their implications. Having seen the force awaken in Rey, The Last Jedi now challenges her to learn what this power is. In doing so, Luke’s involvement means seeing an old Jedi come to terms with what led him to exile. Audiences will learn more about the force than they may have ever known in The Last Jedi and because of that, the film has inherent social value when it comes to ideas concerning how religion functions in society and what it means to conform to old established ideas or move forward with the same ideals intact.

Other actors do terrific work as well. This may be Carrie Fisher’s last film, but she finds enough value in her continued display of confidence as General Leia Organa. I mentioned Isaac, but his conviction serves as a significant factor when it comes to the morality and difficult choices to make in a war. John Boyega was a delight as the stormtrooper-turned-rebel, Finn, and continues to show new layers here. Newcomer Kelly Marie Tran also works quite well as Rose Tico, a new partner to help with Finn’s plot. Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro have vital roles to play as well, with Dern holding up some stern sensibilities similarly found in Leia, while del Toro is in a tricky role that plays to the strengths of the actor’s chameleon-like abilities. And lastly, Andy Serkis relishes finding fun ways to play up the evil in his villainous Supreme Leader Snoke.

Any real concerns as far as what holds this film back amount to nitpicking specific things about the plot. Characters make choices that, at times, feel more like the ultimate purpose was to withhold surprises from the audience and create false tension in the process. I could argue it adds to the classic nature of pulp fiction that happily delivers cliffhangers that are immediately resolved in the next chapter or comic issue, but a film of this scope may have needed to tone down some of the “gotcha” elements. Less of a problem is the focus on surreal imagery, which I only bring up to note how great the film is for taking chances on how far to go with an audience expecting pure spectacle filmmaking throughout. I never lost interest, but the darker tone and lengthy periods of rumination may feel jarring to some.

Minor quibbles aside, there is a pure joy to be found at a constant pace with this film. The Last Jedi is a lot of movie and thanks to the incredible work by all involved, it’s a remarkable motion picture experience. It goes beyond the idea of getting just another Star Wars film, as Johnson made more out of what had been laid in front of him. We may see some familiar character types, but they are all given options that do not merely fall under good or bad. Plus, the film looks terrific. Between the establishing of new worlds and the latest and greatest regarding special effects (and of course, the Porgs), this film has all the makings of a blockbuster that satisfies on all fronts. Star Wars: The Last Jedi has it all, including the droids you were looking for.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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