- “The Last Jedi” is a powerful “Star Wars” movie because it breaks all the usual sequel rules.
- Writer-director Rian Johnson has created a story that is worthy of the saga, but also has the feel of a powerful standalone movie.
If you are wondering why director Rian Johnson has been handed the keys to the “Star Wars” franchise, and been allowed to create a whole new trilogy, look no further than what he’s accomplished in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”
After J.J. Abrams helmed the first “Star Wars” movie beyond “Return of the Jedi” 32 years ago with 2015’s “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” – an entry that featured new characters but also included many familiar hallmarks from the original three movies – Johnson has essentially delivered a sequel that forges a new path in the “Star Wars” saga, as it extends the mythology without using the original three as a crutch.
“The Last Jedi” (opening in theaters on Friday) breaks the usual rules sequels live by. Put simply: It doesn’t just take the things the audience loves about the previous movies and amplify them.
Unfortunately, going into detail on how “The Last Jedi” breaks these rules would divulge things about the movie that would spoil it for you, but what I will say is that all the fan theories that sprung from “The Force Awakens” mean very little.
Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, proves there are greater things to explore – more complex and fascinating subplots. And to get to those he gives us a movie with the kind of moments you usually never see in the second film of a trilogy.
Adam Driver’s multi-layered performance as Kylo Ren is a highlight of the movie
We left off in “The Force Awakens” with the Resistance destroying the First Order’s Starkiller Base and Rey (Daisy Ridley) going off to track down Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). At the start of “The Last Jedi,” Rey is still on the island Skywalker has purposely used to hide from the universe, and the First Order has tracked down the Resistance and is looking to wipe them out.
This is the foundation of “The Last Jedi,” as both settings are where we stay for most of the movie. But thanks to multiple characters we care about and a surprising amount of lightheartedness, the 2.5-hour running time never gets boring or stagnant.
We follow Rey delving deeper into the power of the force, under the reluctant guidance of Skywalker. Poe (Oscar Isaac) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) are together for most of the movie, with the legendary Resistance leader trying to make the talented fighter pilot understand the difference between heroism and leadership. Finn (John Boyega) finds a new girl to go on adventures with, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). But out of the new crop of characters, the most fascinating is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Ren is still trying to prove to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) that he can be as evil as Darth Vader. But more importantly, Johnson further explores the mysterious connection Ren has with Rey. This is done using a heightened way of the force that has never been fully fleshed out in the saga before.
The complexities, anger, and manipulation that Driver gives Ren are a major highlight of the movie. It’s far from the only thing that’s impressive, but it’s just refreshing to see a fleshed out villain in this era of blockbusters and superhero movies where the bad guy character feels hastily put together.
Mark Hamill gives Luke Skywalker an aging samurai feel
Hamill’s return as Skywalker does not disappoint, either. The master Jedi has tried to block himself entirely from the legendary life he once lived, and the tipping point was Skywalker’s failure to train Ren (aka Ben Solo). This is explained to Rey by both Skywalker and Ren, with Johnson cleverly using a “Rashomon“-like storytelling style to do it.
And this isn’t the only time in the movie when Johnson uses the feel of classic Asian cinema to influence his storytelling. The sections that involve Skywalker’s story have the feel of old samurai movies, with Luke as the elderly teacher who has nothing left in his life but the past, and the knowledge of his craft, neither of which he wants anymore. Johnson also shows this visually with a striking shot of Skywalker’s X-Wing resting at the bottom of the shallow water by the cliffs where he lives.
That’s another thing “The Last Jedi” has a lot of: beautiful wide lens shots.
Another great part of “The Last Jedi” is that Johnson pulls off the difficult task of giving solid screen time to the ensemble, and including the new characters. Rose Tico is a spark plug of energy. Benicio Del Toro was born to be in a “Star Wars” movie, and he pulls off another unique speaking style for his role as the code breaker, DJ. And Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo has one of the biggest WOW! moments in the movie.
Yes, and the Porgs are fantastic!
Then there’s Leia. “The Last Jedi” marks the final performance in the iconic career of Carrie Fisher. She gets a good amount of screen time, including one scene that will certainly spark some major internet chatter.
If there’s one knock I have on the film it’s that, once again, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is given very little screen time. Guess we can only hope that will be rectified in “Episode IX.”
It certainly looks like Disney/Lucasfilm has found the filmmaker who it can use to extend the saga beyond just rehashing the greatness of the original three movies.
That’s perhaps the best part of “The Last Jedi.” Johnson has made something that isn’t just a worthy addition to one of the most fan obsessed franchises ever, but is also a powerful standalone story.
A rare feat for any sequel.