“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is a big entertaining surprise. Fully developing the potentials glimpsed from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015), this ambitious piece of work not only excited me with numerous memorable sights but also intrigued me with its unexpectedly powerful storytelling. In short, this is the Star Wars movie I have never imagined I wanted, and you have to see for yourself how much it is willing to go further for new open possibilities on the horizon.
If “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” follows the playbook based on “Star Wars: A New Hope” (1977), the first half of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” seems to follow the one based on “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). Despite the big victory attained at the end of the previous film, the Resistance led by General Leia Organa (late Carrie Fisher in her final performance) has been cornered by the First Order, and the movie opens with the Resistance desperately fleeing from the relentless pursuit of the First Order fleet. Mainly thanks to a reckless but brave action of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isacc), the Resistance manages to evade the First Order fleet for a while, but the situation soon becomes quite more urgent and desperate, and it begins to look quite possible that the war will be eventually over with the total defeat of the Resistance.
Meanwhile, we see what happens after Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally encountered Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) during the final shot of the previous film. Since his disastrous failure with his nephew Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Luke has hidden in a remote island located in a distant island called Ahch-To for many years, and he still feels bitter and morose about his failure as a Jedi Master. He curtly refuses to teach Rey during their first encounter, but Rey is not someone who does not easily step back, so Luke reluctantly comes to give her some lessons on, yes, the Force.
As Rey and Luke begin to form a rather strained mentor/apprentice relationship, their conversations soon revolve around Kylo, who has served Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) since he went to the dark side of the Force. As your average troubled petulant lad, Kylo is still seething and brooding over his patricide committed in the previous film, and Snoke, whose name sounds rather ridiculous (don’t confuse it with snorkel, by the way) but who is as evil and manipulative as Emperor Palpatine in the original Star Wars Trilogy, is going to use that and other things for pushing further Kylo to the dark side. When he savagely ridicules Kylo at one point, he certainly knows which buttons should be pushed, and we see that he gets exactly what he wants from his volatile apprentice.
Besides these three main plotlines, there is an additional plotline involved with Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). After finding that there is a small possible chance to save the Resistance, Finn, a former stormtropper who defected to the Resistance, secretly goes for that chance with Rose, who is quite delighted to do something more important (and exciting) than guarding escape pods in their spaceship. Of course, things do not go as well as they hope, and the Resistance continues to run out of time as General Organa and other high-ranking members of the Resistance fear for the worst.
Busily juggling its multiple plotlines, the screenplay by director Rian Johnson sometimes feels a bit dragged especially during its middle part, but it steadily builds its narrative momentum as providing a number of effective dramatic moments which lead to unexpectedly strong story/character development. For example, it is quite engaging to watch how the drama between its two main characters is unfolded via a sort of hyperspace communication, and how this eventually culminates to a payoff moment later in the story is one of many satisfying things in the film. While the movie is possibly the darkest Star Wars film since “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”, it is not entirely devoid of humor, and you will certainly get chuckles from its several humorous moments including the earlier one involved with Finn awakening from his unconscious state.
On the technical level, the movie is visually striking. While its battle sequences are as intense and exciting as those of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016), they are always accompanied with nice artistic touches including the operatic use of red and white during the climax sequence. In case of a part involved with Finn and Rose’ adventure, the movie takes some time to show us something new and wondrous, and that reminds me again of why I have been charmed by the fantasy space world of the Star Wars series. I enjoyed various robots and creatures in the film including those crystal foxes, and I found myself being fonder of BB-8, who somehow operates well throughout the film despite frequently experiencing physical impacts from here and there.
The main cast members of the movie are stellar on the whole. While Daisy Ridley is commendable as the new center of the series, Adam Driver further solidifies his villain character, and John Boyega ably balances his character between cowardness and bravery. Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, and Benicio del Toro are effective in their respective roles, and Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher comfortably embody their familiar characters while functioning as the crucial parts of the story.
Although it may not reach to the pinnacle represented by “Star Wars: A New Hope” and “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” succeeds in growing beyond the original trilogy, and it will be very interesting to see how much the following sequel is propelled by this significant achievement in terms of story and characters. Seriously, I have no idea on what will come next, but I am prepared to embrace more new things.