After spending the better part of two years ranting against Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, against) and writer/director J.J. Abrams’ ridiculously derivative (heck, downright copycat) plot, to say I headed into The Last Jedi a little wary would be a wee understatement. But Rian Johnson was holding the reins this go-round, and his previous films, including Brick, The Brothers Bloom, and Looperare all legitimately excellent—not at all in the Star Wars vein, but excellent.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. The Last Jedi is a stunner. And even though, yes, it incorporates (regurgitates?) plenty of familiar Star Wars plot points (heroes sneaking onto an Imperial space-base to turn off an important device, a large and nifty Imperial weapon trying to decimate the Rebel while a countdown clock ticks, yet another visit to an alien-populated space bar/watering hole), Johnson makes it all work by turning everything on its head, shattering expectations, and offering the freshest chapter in the Star Wars canon since 1981’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Picking up shortly after the events of The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi is really two movies in one. As in Empire, which finds Luke hanging with Yoda while everyone else is off on a deep space adventure, The Last Jedi splits its time between the meet-up of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Luke (Mark Hamill) on Ahch-To and the deep space adventure of everyone else.
General Organa (Carrie Fisher) is leading the Resistance against the First Order, aided by hot-shot pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and good ol’ BB-8. The First Order fleet, under the command of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), is chasing the Resistance across the galaxy, under the watchful eye of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). When it’s discovered that the First Order has a hyperspace-proof tracker aimed at the Resistance mother ship, Finn joins mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on a mission to destroy it.
At the same time, Luke and Rey are butting heads on a desolate island; she wants to learn the ways of the Force, he’s adamantly retired, still reeling from his last failed experiment, Ben Solo, who went to the dark side and became Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The last time we (really) saw Hamill he was smiling at the ghosts of Yoda, Anakin, and Obi-Wan at the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi, so saying his work in The Last Jedi is his best stuff in three decades isn’t saying much, but he leaves everyone in the dust here. It’s a masterful, gripping performance of a tormented man—a far cry from the young kid who whined about power converters way back in Star Wars.
The rest of the cast steps up the plate, too. Both Ridley and Driver are brilliant, and, of course, it’s great to see old friends like C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca sprinkled throughout.
The bittersweet appearance of Carrie Fisher, who passed away a year ago, casts a pall over the proceedings, but she goes out with a bang, and kudos to Johnson for the touching tribute he gives her during the closing credits.
For gonzo Star Wars fans, The Last Jedi is a rock-solid return to the way things were (before, ahem, Abrams nearly derailed everything with The Force Awakens). It’s heartwarming, stuffed with big-time special effects and big-bang-boom battles, and it’s also, surprisingly, often quite funny. The Last Jedi is a good half-hour over-stuffed, and it feels like it ends on a half-dozen separate occasions, but the Force is clearly with with Rian Johnson, and the saga looks to be safe in his very capable hands. It be still be a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but Star Wars feels as fresh as ever.
Worth the 3D glasses?
Oddly enough, no. There’s a decent smattering of extra-dimensional stuff going on, but it’s not necessary to pony up for the plastic glasses. Just sit back, glasses-free, and enjoy the movie with clear eyes.