The lights go up and I find myself in the middle of a small but jam packed theater full of applause. Before I know it, my hands start clapping as if it was a natural reaction out of my control. My friend next to me is trying to wipe the tears from her eyes before I take notice. She fails and blatantly admits, “yeah I cried like three separate times, no big deal”. My mind needs to take a minute before conjuring the perfect response. What do I say? “Rian Johnson is a mad man”. We have just sat through the two and a half hour beast that is Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My anticipation that began when we last saw Rey passing back Luke his old lightsaber at the end of The Force Awakens had just come to an end. The past two years seemed like they were everlasting. I type this now hours after the film’s end ready to exclaim that this wait was indeed worth it. I was not aware that this time was supposed to be utilized for preparing to abandon all expectations. This is why The Last Jedi turns out to be the film that the franchise desperately needs. It takes you on the extensive emotional ride that you did not think you needed or was even possible.
I highly suggest you go into this film knowing as little as possible. The era that we live in unfortunately makes this very hard for people leading up to the release of highly anticipated films. However, director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm have done an outstanding job of keeping the trailers as spoiler free as they can be. I saw both the teaser and full trailer dozens of times and still had the best experience. You only need to know a short description of where the story begins to get your mind on the right track. It literally starts moments after the end of the previous film. Rey has just made first contact with the now exiled Luke Skywalker. General Leia Organa’s Resistance fleet must cut their celebration of the obliterated Starkiller Base short for the First Order are now hot on their tracks. I have no more need to discuss literal plot points so you can continue reading without caution. This is the only Star Wars film that does not begin after a time gap from the previous film. If this brought you any worries as to how it would effect the narrative or opening crawl fear not, for the opening act and crawl transition very smoothly from TFA.
There are a few questions that many fans have right off the bat when it comes to a new Star Wars film. How were the digital and practical effects? How was the action? How creative did the filmmakers get when it came to adding new locations and characters to the Star Wars lore? The last question may just come from me and a few nit picky fans, but I truly believe that the question carries great validity when it comes to this specific franchise. I really enjoyed most of the new locations and characters from TFA and Rogue One. It took me multiple watches to really appreciate and notice them. However, one viewing of TLJ has already made me love the new additions to the lore due to amazing cinematography and intricate direction.
Almost every new location, creature, and group of aliens feels like they fit in with purpose. Yes the already fan favored porgs may be adorable, but there is subtext as to why they are heavily featured on Ach-To. The new planets all feature great shots that highlight their scenery and life, but there is more subtext as to why we are specifically visiting these locations. These are connections that I did not necessarily feel when watching all of TFA or R1. The action has never felt more operatic and has a firm grasp of your attention for the entire run time. There are certain scenes and shots that will be remembered for a very long time due to either engaging action or emotional interactions at the center of meaningful locations with unique characteristics. Many might agree with me after their viewings when I say that it feels like Rian Johnson put attention to fan complaints. You can feel that he is as big as a fan as you are and that he only shares the same concerns and love for the saga.
This love and concern that you can feel from the director/writer is where the film’s best quality is rooted. Sure amazing cinematography and cute animatronic aliens are a plus, but what of the story at hand? This has to be one of the most unpredictable experiences that I have had watching a blockbuster all year. This is why this film is what the franchise desperately needs right now- because taking risks is front and center with character work. Pay no attention to those who claim that this film takes no risks. I could not grasp the outcome of events or even predict what was going to happen for a majority of the time. When you feel like you should be at the end of act 3- it turns out that you are actually still in act 2. When you expect certain solutions you get the exact opposite. These types of choices only give the cast the best material to work with. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac really define themselves as the leads of this trilogy due to the choices they have to make under unpredictable circumstances. Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher learn to evolve with the change and prove that characters can never stop learning and growing. Everyone has their grand moment to shine and you’ll know it when you see it. Audiences will also more than likely roar with excitement and cheer, so these moments are impossible to miss.
The great risks taken in the film are sure to divide some fans. The bigger the risk, the greater the divide. I can already hear specific complaints in my head that are sure to be popular. I only have two things to say to this. The previous two Star Wars films gathered much criticism on similarities from previous installments and nostalgia. Many were already worried that TLJ was going to be too similar to The Empire Strikes Back. Both are completely different films because of the risky decisions made. How long can a franchise survive if audiences keep seeing the same scenarios over and over again? Fans may be shocked when certain revelations rise, but it would not be very exciting if you already knew what was coming right? I applaud Johnson’s decisions for they bring new life to the saga and offer fans new debates to spin our heads over.
Having said all of this, no film is truly perfect. The long run time may be a negative for some if they do not engage with the direction and decisions made within the film. The time length does benefit the packed narrative, but some may feel as if there is too much stuff going on. I feel like the story barely fits in neatly. One more story thread could have just been too much. This packed story does lead to few members of the supporting cast not being fully utilized. However, the majority of the new and returning cast does serve a purpose while also adding their own style to the frame. The packed story also leads to a few select moments where the pacing could be a tad bit too fast. The film also features more comedy than you might think. The jokes and relief all feel like they come from Johnson’s voice. He was not afraid to filter himself which I absolutely appreciate. We should encourage directors to put as much of themselves as possible in such huge blockbusters. Some may feel like his jokes do not belong in Star Wars, but I cannot help but smile as I imagine him sporting the biggest grin while writing the script. Some of these complaints and concerns can be only minuscule to the grand scheme of things.
Eight films into this core saga and I thought I had almost seen it all. This film gives me hope that the studio will only pursue more films in uncharted waters. If you want the future of Star Wars to stay fresh and keep you on your feet- then this is the episode 8 we deserve. Character work accompanied by risks that actually pay off is exactly why I put TLJ as the top crown jewel in the current Lucasfilm era. The galaxy is changing, if you cannot keep up then you will not be able to appreciate the greatness that different decisions and takes have to offer. Go into this film with no expectations and you will find a story that you did not think you needed or was even fathomable. Listen to Luke when you watch the trailer again and hear “This is not going to go the way you think”.
Review written by Andrew J. Salazar (@yokis101 on Twitter)
If it adds any context- this is how I am comfortable ranking the films as of now.
- The Empire Strikes Back
- A New Hope
- The Last Jedi
- Return of the Jedi
- The Force Awakens
- Rogue One
- Revenge of the Sith
- The Phantom Menace
- Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: The Last Jedi blasts into theaters on December 15th.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Having taken her first steps into the Jedi world, Rey joins Luke Skywalker on an adventure with Leia, Finn and Poe that unlocks mysteries of the Force and secrets of the past.
Directed by Rian Johnson and starring Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Andy Serkis.