By Caleb Bridger
Picking up almost immediately after “The Force Awakens” the second installment of Star Wars’ third trilogy, “The Last Jedi,” follows the fledgling Resistance being outgunned across the galaxy by the mysterious First Order. Meanwhile on a distant and ancient world, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker has entered self-imposed exile after his former pupil Kylo Ren has slaughtered all the students at his new Jedi Academy. Rey, a scavenger orphan from the junkyards of Jakku, finds herself standing before the legendary Jedi master turned hermit … offering him the lightsaber of his father, Darth Vader, in hopes that he’ll train her in the ways of the Force. Pretty great setup, but not the greatest execution in Star Wars history.
In an effort to accomplish too much, “The Last Jedi” achieves too little. Though wildly entertaining, the film somehow remains a major disappointment. This sequel trilogy can best be defined for its Death Star-sized plot holes, which seem to continuously blow up again and again with the film’s sloppy writing and pacing. The film at times feels like a campy parody of Star Wars, featuring an all-star cast and some beloved familiar faces who are given continuous piles of bantha fodder to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this film, but I certainly didn’t like it either.
Disney took a gamble by passing the Star Wars trilogy off to multiple writers and directors. Though their gamble has certainly “paid off” in the literal box office sense, the Star Wars franchise has taken a damaging hit, losing itself and beloved characters, and bringing a new generation of fans into a series that is becoming increasingly difficult to love and follow.
In 2014, JJ Abrams (“Star Trek,” “Lost”) alongside veteran Star Wars writer Lawrence Kasdan (“Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi)” returned us to a galaxy far, far away after replacing Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”) who’s original Episode VII screenplay was scratched.
Disney was eager for its return on investment so their work was rushed, the galaxy they built thoroughly undeveloped … forcing them to deliver a plot that can be described as sloppy at best and self-plagiarism at worst. “The Force Awakens,” which I originally gave a rave review, has not aged gracefully in the two years since its theater debut. Several viewings later, I can say that film only succeeded because of nostalgia, incredible casting and for the enormous potential of its sequel.
Writer/director Rian Johnson tried to leave his own mark on the franchise by course correcting the failed plot of Kasdan and Abrams’ “The Force Awakens,” quite literally and symbolically throwing away their story arch as Luke tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder, denying Rey the tutelage she so desperately sought at the end of the seventh installment. This disconnect between two otherwise great talents effectively ended any sense of a unified trilogy and story. Almost impressively, Johnson, in two and a half hours, manages to move the overall plot barely an inch.
What shines best in this film is the cast. From top to bottom, it’s hard not to love this diverse and enormously talented ensemble. Old heroes return as well as a generation of new talent who are quickly taking Hollywood by storm.
Among those who shine the brightest are Oscar Isaac as the dashing X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron. His bromance with former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) is alive and well, much to the audience’s enjoyment. My favorite pair, however, is the unlikely duo of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. Ridley brings to life the force-wielding scavenger and would-be Jedi padawan Rey. Meanwhile the quirky and brilliant Adam Driver serves as her complicated dark side counterpart, Kylo Ren, the film’s primary antagonist and fallen apprentice of Luke Skywalker. These two share in a remarkable performance and also produce “The Last Jedi’s” greatest scene, which will no doubt enter the annals of Star Wars lore.
Carrie Fisher’s finest performance is unfortunately also her final performance. Princess Leia returns to the big screen as a fearless leader and general, both emotionally complex and still spitting out that same quick humor that helped her ascend to fame.
In this film she’s joined by her twin brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill. Though I wasn’t a fan of Luke’s new story arch, I’m still very much in love with this poor moisture farmer from Tatooine who becomes one of the galaxies greatest legends. Hamill reminds us all why we fell in love with Luke Skywalker in the first place.
“Stars Wars: The Last Jedi,” despite its flaws, remains a must-see film filled to the brim with excitement, spectacular cinematography and some serious action. There is still much to love in this eighth Star Wars installment, even if the Force falls flat from time to time. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, “The Last Jedi” is now playing in local theaters.