The Star Wars Saga continues in its latest installment, the Last Jedi. It is the second of a planned new trilogy of films, and the eighth “episode” in the franchise’s main story line.
It is also the series’ best entry yet.
Written and directed by Looper director Rian Johnson, the Last Jedi follows 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, continuing the story of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), as well as Luke Skywalker and General Leia Organa (Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, respectively).
Though the film is a typical Star Wars movie in all the ways one would expect–lightsabers, stormtroopers, and the clash of X-wing and TIE fighter–Johnson certainly does not play it safe here. The similarities between 2015’s the Force Awakens and the original 1977 Star Wars made some fear that the Last Jedi would be a mere retread of the Empire Strikes Back (the second movie in the original trilogy). But Johnson’s film boldly goes in its own direction.
Some inevitable recurring elements from “Empire” and the other original films do appear in the Last Jedi, but are handled with a level of depth new to the franchise. The “bad guys” and “good guys” do not just fight each other, but among themselves.
Even scenes without onscreen action are taut with psychological conflict and bitter, combative dialogue. So, when battles do begin, the viewer has a reason to be invested in their outcome. The Last Jedi runs the gamut of human emotion, balancing joy, sorrow, hope, and despair all throughout.
The cinematography and other storytelling elements also defy the conventions of a Star Wars film. The “Force” and the struggle of the light against the dark breathe through the world and its characters, giving it a grand metaphysical weight that rivals Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Though it is the most ambitious Star Wars film yet, it is also the longest. Two-and-a-half hours long, the Last Jedi contains a bit of unevenness toward the end. There is hardly a dull moment throughout the movie’s run time, but the movie still does not seem to wrap up when it needs to.
Some of the film’s final act could have been trimmed, or at least saved for the next installment. The viewer certainly leaves the theater with questions and time to think about how things will play out in Episode IX, but Johnson had a real opportunity here to leave the audience “out in the cold,” which he did not take. This is the closest the movie comes to playing it safe.
However, until this new trilogy is complete, we will not be able to judge fully how in or out of place the Last Jedi’s ending is. But, with the high caliber of Episode VIII, moviegoers have a reason to be optimistic about what is next.