The Force Finally Awakens In The Last Jedi

This post contains detailed spoilers about The Last Jedi. 

The Last Jedi is something that I have been waiting for since matching gold and silver Star Wars box sets were the crown jewels of my middle school video collection. After three underwhelming prequels, a disappointing sequel, and digital remasters that have essentially scrubbed the original versions of the trilogy from the Star Wars library, The Last Jedi is the great new Star Wars movie that has finally made me feel excited about the franchise again.

There are many layers to The Last Jedi. It is the most complex Star Wars movie ever. The film is much more closely aligned to The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King than your typical action blockbuster. There are simultaneous journeys from multiple characters and an unrelenting series of endings. Like Peter Jackson’s film, The Last Jedi is a visual masterpiece. Unlike the mediocre CGI of The Phantom Menace-era films, there are several scenes that are outstanding accomplishments from director Rian Johnson. The overall story and development of old and new characters is something that audiences have not witnessed in quite some time.

This Is Not Your Father’s Star Wars

The story of The Last Jedi dramatically shakes up the expected timeline of the new trilogy. The Force Awakens was another Death Star plot that felt like it had merely launched new characters that were going to experience a similar timeline as the original trilogy. Those expectations are no longer in place.

While it took three films for Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Emperor Palpatine to square off in an epic space station struggle, this trilogy’s version of the battle royale takes place in its second edition. Supreme Leader Snoke is dead and Kylo Ren is now the sole arch-villain of the film. This is a welcome development to the series. The death of Snoke allows audiences to recognize that this trilogy is now a departure from being a regurgitation of the timeline of Episodes IV-VI.

Not only has Kylo Ren taken over the First Order, but there is also an interesting dynamic between himself and Rey. They are compatriots in ways that were never present between Vader and Luke. Theirs is a less defined sense of good vs. evil because their conflict is exploring a more psychological gray area.

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Snoke’s Throne Room In The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi Is A Significant Improvement From The Force Awakens

While The Force Awakens abused nostalgia to please audiences, The Last Jedi used components of the original trilogy in a more subtle manner. This tact resulted in a better film than its predecessor. Watching the Millennium Falcon maneuver its way through the caverns of Crait as John Williams’s familiar score played was a major rush. There were moments with the fabled ship in The Force Awakens, but this scene felt less forced. The struggle for Crait contained similar strategic elements of the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back, but The Last Jedi did not overwhelm the audience with their inclusion.

The Last Jedi brought Mark Hamill’s character full circle. Seeing Luke Skywalker sacrifice himself was clearly reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s death in A New Hope and the backdrop to the scene was a fantastic homage to the film. In A New Hope, Skywalker began his journey as the iconic binary sunset unfolded in the background. His battle with Kylo Ren also featured a dual sunset that was a part of the most striking visual sequence of the movie.

The pacing of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo’s standout scene was an interesting choice. Her previous achievements are briefly mentioned earlier in the film, but it initially appears as if Laura Dern’s character is uninspired and toothless. As The Last Jedi unfolds it becomes obvious that the choice to make Holdo seem vapid was brilliant. Watching her pilot the cruiser as it sliced a ship into pieces was amazing and one of the most unexpected moments of The Last Jedi. 

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The Last Jedi’s planet Crait provided striking visuals

Is The Last Jedi Mark Hamill’s Best Star Wars Performance?

After barely appearing in The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill dominated the screen in The Last Jedi. The revelation of how he facilitated Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side gave a new dimension to Luke.  His character was significantly more nuanced than it had been for the bulk of Episodes IV-VI. Minutiae like brushing off his shoulder before his duel with Kylo Ren are more than we are used to seeing from Luke Skywalker.

Hamill nailed his final scenes. While Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens was quick, the death of Luke Skywalker required a much more commanding scene. Han was always the scammer and grittier character, but Luke has been the polished professional warrior.

It would not be a surprise to see him appear as a blue undead character in Episode IX, but if this is Mark Hamill’s last appearance as Luke Skywalker, he gave his signature role an epic sendoff.

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Mark Hamill in The Last Jedi

This Is Not The First Time I Will Be Seeing The Last Jedi

The film was not as fluid as the original three and there are some parts of the movie that are unclear. We don’t know how BB-8 managed to get inside an AT-ST or how Rey magically transported herself from an escape pod to the Millennium Falcon. The middle part of the film that followed Finn and Rose through the casino dragged. Rose’s interference with Finn’s assault of the giant cannon made little sense given the circumstances. Leia’s use of the Force to transport herself through space was an unnecessary scene, but none of these moments were a significant hindrance to the overall pleasure that the movie created.

In 2015 I left the screening of The Force Awakens feeling as if I never had to see the movie ever again. It was the very same vibe that I had experienced after leaving The Phantom Menace in 1999. The Last Jedi’s complexity and fantastic production quality provided something that none of the last four editions of the canon Star Wars films had approached: a desire to watch it again.

There is so much more to The Last Jedi than those four movies. There are breathtaking moments of cinematography, enhanced character layers, genuinely funny scenes, and significant moments that require dissection. The Last Jedi is the Star Wars film that I have been waiting for.

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