‘The Last Jedi’ is not your father’s ‘Star Wars’
Since this review will appear a week after the release of "The Last Jedi," I will write it with the assumption that most die-hard nerds such as myself will have already witnessed the film at least once.
That being said, I will still attempt to tread lightly in terms of spoilers, but if you wish to see the film without any inkling of what is to happen (which you should), proceed at your own peril...
"Star Wars: The Last Jedi," officially the eighth film in the 40-year-old franchise, is not your father's "Star Wars." Hell, since I am bringing my children to each opening, it's not really "my" Star Wars now. And that is perfectly fine with me. While "Jedi" is content with demolishing old myths, the new ones it explores are equally fascinating and as thrilling as those I witnessed when that "Episode IV" text crawl first flickered on the screen for me.
Where J.J. Abrams expertly updated the series with "The Force Awakens" by essentially carrying over many of the series' "greatest hits," "Jedi" director Rian Johnson takes these concepts and deconstructs them to have resonance for a new age. This shift may initially be a bit disconcerting for aging devotees, but those open to its evolution will be eager to follow where this path may lead them.
I will perhaps insert a reminder that in 1980, when "The Empire Strikes Back" was first released (often considered the pinnacle of the franchise), it was not considered the classic it is regarded as today. Even the esteemed Vincent Canby wrote at the time in The New York Times, "It's a nice movie. It's not, by any means, as nice as 'Star Wars.' It's not as fresh and funny and surprising and witty, but it is nice and inoffensive."
This is not to say that "Last Jedi" will replace the long-standing "Empire" as a favorite, but I feel time will be quite kind to it, and it could be viewed as the film that charted its course to appeal to future fans.
From its opening battle sequence, "Last Jedi" just feels different. Picking up immediately after "The Force Awakens," we find Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) with an older Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), attempting to get him to aid the ailing Resistance. The evil First Order is encroaching on the rebel army led by General Leia Organa (played by Carrie Fisher in her final role), and sharpshooter Poe (played by Oscar Isaac) and droid buddy BB-8 on a rogue counterattack. Finn (played by John Boyega) is healing from his battle against the ominous Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (played by Adam Driver), and Kylo is struggling to regain his good graces with the Supreme Commander Snoke (played by Andy Serkis).
Throughout the following 2.5 hours (it is a long one, and can feel like it from time to time), characters are led to catharsis, past characters pop by for visits, epic space battles and lightsaber duels aplenty are fought. But there is a tonal shift that is both unexpected and welcome. There are scenes and plot threads that have been given great importance by fans in the two years building to this installment, only to have little to no consequence here. It's not that director Rian Johnson is disinterested in them, it's merely that he sees them as more soap-operatic than the larger issues he discusses.
"Jedi" is very much a torch-passing film, as we still have large roles for Luke, Leia and the rest of the surviving gang to play. But wise as they are, they know that the battle for universal balance is left to the young, and each and every new cast member is up to the challenge.
Most notably, Adam Driver as Ren, who was dismissed by some in "Force Awakens" as a whiny lad, demonstrates why he was the best choice for the role. Conflicted, confused and ever bitter, he is one of the strongest assests in "Jedi," as his pain is realized and perhaps even shared.
"Jedi" is also notable for its design, as it is hands-down the most beautifully shot film of the franchise. The stunning beauty of these new worlds is matched only by the film's unexpected levity. But, like "Thor: Ragnorok," the jokes never feel cheap or easy, mocking the institution in which they rest.
In the trailer for the film, Luke utters, "This is not going to go the way you think," and that serves as the narrative crux in "Jedi," as it weaves us through a number of unexpected delights, both lighter and deeper. It is the driving force of the film, and that force is strong with this one.