by Alan Yudman
How to write this review without spoilers? I’m not sure I can. So please, don’t be angry if I reveal too much.
The general plot of STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI centers around the First Order led by General Hux, trying to wipe out the last remnants of the Resistance. How that plays out and the multiple ways the Resistance tries to survive are the threads that tie it all together. Rey is still on Luke Skywalker’s island, training to be a Jedi and trying to convince the scarred and bitter hero to join the fight. Fin and Rose (a new character wonderfully played by Kelly Marie Tran) are trying to disable a new First Order tracking system that can find ships as they travel through hyperspace. They go to find a code breaker on a distant planet called Canto Bight. Maz Kanata says he can get them onto Snoke’s ship. Poe Dameron has been “benched” because while he takes out a First Order ship in the early part of the film, his victory comes at an enormous cost. While all that is going on, Kylo Ren is shamed by Snoke and he tries to redeem himself by supposedly luring Rey into his corner using apparent “Jedi mind tricks”.
Ok, that covers the broad strokes. And they are strokes ably applied by Rian Johnson who wrote and directed THE LAST JEDI. The story goes places and touches on things we’ve never seen in a Star Wars movie. There is class distinction. A distinction between rich and poor. Women are given prominent roles, not just as big heroines but as the important bit players flying X-Wing fighters and Rebel bombers and manning control panels on First Order ships. There are few points at which you wonder, “wait, where did that come from”, but it in no way detracts from the film. It’s solid piece of Sci-Fi and touches on modern themes that Johnson could not have known would be prominent in popular culture when the movie wrapped filming before November 2016. This may be the most visually stunning of the 8 Star Wars films. Two scenes stand out in my mind. There is a battle in Snoke’s throne room that is wonderfully choreographed. The art direction and cinematography are perfect. Also, when the Resistance arrives at its new base, that planet is spectacularly constructed by the production designers.
The performances from Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill and Domnhall Gleason are all right on point. There are small, important performances from Benicio Del Torro and Laura Dern that are wonderful. Back to Carrie for a moment. It is impossible not to feel melancholy about her appearance. She is so vital to the story and yet it is the last time we will ever see her. Sad doesn’t begin to describe the emotions.
The themes involve family, power and trust. Outside of Rey’s growth as a Jedi, the most interesting arc to me was Poe’s. There wasn’t nearly enough of Oscar Isaac in the THE FORCE AWAKENS. Problem solved. Poe is a “strength means blowing stuff up” guy. He would rather fight that talk. Any step away from a battle is weakness. But he learns from both Leia and Vice Admiral Holdo (Dern) that sometimes being strong means knowing when not to fight. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in Episode IX.
Before I wrap this up, let me quickly address the Porgs. Those are those little bird/rodent looking things you’ve seen in the trailers. I was fearful they’d be annoying or too cloyingly sweet. Nothing to worry about. They are used as kind of tension breakers or comic relief, which is just fine.
EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is the best Star Wars movie. THE LAST JEDI hits a lot of the same marks in story, tone and plot and in some ways does it better. So while LAST JEDI may not be the best, it is definitely 1-A.
Whew… not too many spoilers I hope. Oh, almost forgot to mention Rey’s parents. Nope. Not going there. You’ll just have to see for yourself.