You know a fun way to pass the time during a boring holiday weekend? With Star Wars movies. Lucky for us, the latest drops for home entertainment this week. Piss off your Fox News watching uncle and your most self-indulgent of white male nerd friends with the strong female lead and natural character arc of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Did The Force Awakens simply recycle our Star Wars memories and sell them back to us? It did, but not simply, damn near brilliantly.
Then we got the sneak attack from the surprisingly deep Rogue One, a highly effective prequel that only strengthened our bond with the original Star Wars trilogy, and our confidence in the filmmakers now at the helm of this historic franchise.
The Last Jedi makes any letdowns seem light years away. With a deft mix of character-driven emotion, high stakes action and mischievous fun, it waves a proud flag for the legacy of this cinematic universe while confidently taking big strides toward crafting a new one.
Visionary talent Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) now has the con as both director and sole screenwriter. His affection for the franchise, coupled with an innovative sense of character arc and storyline, combine for a freshness that respects nostalgia even while priming you to move beyond it.
Like J.J. Abrams, Johnson revisits iconic images and bits from the predecessors, but even with much more screen time for Mark Hamill’s Luke, Last Jedi feels less indebted to the original trilogy than did Force Awakens. You’ll find more humor (an opening “on hold” bit is a riot), more action and more Kylo Ren.
As Rey, Leia (Carrie Fisher in a bittersweet appearance), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Bodega) gather their scrappy troops to resist the First Order’s plan for pasty-faced, black-clad tyranny, the yin and yang of the film pits Adam Driver’s dark Ren against the spunky light of Daisy Ridley’s Rey.
Force Awakens gave Ridley plenty of opportunity to claim her spot at the center of the franchise, but Last Jedi allows Driver the chance to fully expand into the role of series villain. A true talent, Driver delivers a Ren who is emotionally manipulative and yet sincere (so emo!), needy and conflicted as he struggles to prove himself more than the “child in a mask” derided by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis – aided by improved CGI).
Last Jedi also completes the transition of Poe into the courageous, never-tell-me-the-odds “flyboy” we knew was his destiny since the fist moments of Force Awakens. Isaac never disappoints, and it’s a joy to see him buckle this swash so Han-dily (sorry).
While we meet some great new characters, too, there is little exposition and a near constant barrage of action which renders the extended running time meaningless. It might get a little too cute once or twice, but there’s enough social commentary here to be relevant, enough visual glory to look wondrous, and more than enough spirit to be confident in its vision.
Things happen to characters we care about and to others we just met, and nearly all of those things carry the emotional heft of torches being passed.
And The Last Jedi makes it feel not only right but necessary, and all the more satisfying.