I came out of The Last Jedi the same way I always do after watching a new Star Wars film for the first time; completely elated, and utterly exhausted. I think my husband said it best: “this is a lot of movie.” Rian Johnson has succeeded in taking The Last Jedi and making it his own, a truly unique entry in the franchise (okay, there are touches of Empire and Return of the Jedi here) that manages to make us fall even more in love with these characters, and in my case finally appreciate one particular oldie but now goodie. It’s not perfect, but I can unequivocally state that it is my favorite of the most recent batch of Star Wars films.
The Resistance led by General Organa (Carrie Fisher) is still a cobbled together band of earnest patriots with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) leading the charge. Isaac still knows exactly what to do with this character imbuing him with equal parts insufferable trigger-happy “flyboy” and loyal solider. He is without a doubt one of the best additions to the new trilogy. Finn (John Boyega) continues to put his First Order knowledge to the test, helping Poe and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) devise a plan to escape a tricky situation with the First Order on their heels. Leia has some badass moments in Last Jedi, including putting to practice a specific family trait that up until now has only really been explored in the extended universe novels of old. It’s something I was really happy to see, and sad I’ll never see again.
We find Rey (Daisy Ridley) still on the Jedi island with a gruff and tortured Luke (Mark Hamil), dealing with the ramifications of his failed pupil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). I never particularly cared for Luke in the original trilogy but Mark Hamill does a truly fantastic job playing the seasoned master. Between Leia, Han, and Luke, Hamill is the most believable progression of his character in old age, and made me finally appreciate the journey he began as a whiny little twerp from Tatooine. Rey too is a character I found less appealing in Force Awakens (I hate “strong female characters” that pander to the audience) but Last Jedi pushes deeper into her insecurities about her parents as well as her role in a new generation of the Jedi Order. Much of her story arc from Force Awakens to Last Jedi is tied to the task of reviving Luke and returning him to his status of “Jedi Legend,” while finding her place in the universe. Their scenes together on the island are some of the best in the film.
But really it’s time to talk about the real star of this movie and therefore my unabashed love for Kylo Ren and Adam Driver. The character work done in Last Jedi helps inform the angst and flair for the dramatics that Kylo exhibits throughout Force Awakens. This Kylo is more in control and yes, much more powerful while still being a highly vulnerable and lonely kid. His relationship with Rey is an interesting one and provides much of the intrigue throughout the film. Driver plays the division in Kylo to perfection and in Johnson’s capable hands I was thrilled with the direction his character took in this film. His participation in two epic fight scenes is also thrilling, and are highlights of Last Jedi, as is his continued one-upmanship with General Hux (Domhnall Gleason).
I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without talking about my queen Laura Dern. Her character, Vice Admiral Holdo, was first introduced earlier this year in the novel Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Grey. That book establishes her relationship with Leia when they first meet as teenagers. Seeing Dern and Fisher reenact that friendship on screen was fun to watch and reinforced how Star Wars stories in other media can enhance the viewing experience of the films. From Mon Mothma to Leia to Holdo, I’m glad the franchise is continuing the tradition of female mentorship within the leadership of the Rebellion.
Above all, this film is about the importance of legends and the inspiration that drives others to action. Leia is a symbol of hope throughout the galaxy, but Luke is the “spark” that is needed to ignite the Resistance into action. Unable to turn away from his destiny, his presence breathes new life into the fight and as we see, sows the seeds of a continued resistance for generations to come. This central focus of Last Jedi and the characters directly involved in that arc, namely, Luke, Rey, Kylo, and sometimes Leia, is the strongest aspect of the film and the story I am most invested in. The side plots involving the other central characters are serviceable and give everyone a purpose but the level of emotional investment in their outcome continues to be low.
There’s volumes more to say, as again, there’s a lot of movie here, but to reveal more would lessen the surprises and pure joy so many moments in this film brought to me. I’m on two viewings now and by the end of the weekend it may well be up to four. There’s much to explore here. This really is the most wonderful time of the year.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.