When I was prepping to see this movie, I asked myself whether I should rewatch The Force Awakens to remind myself of where the story had left off, or The Phantom Menace so that it would be impossible to be disappointed. I settled on The Force Awakens because the alternative was watching The Phantom Menace. Now that I’ve seen The Last Jedi, I know that I’m certainly not disappointed, but I hesitate to even rate it at this point. As always with The First Impression series, this review is SPOILER FREE.
As opposed to J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson, the director of this film, tends to take his movies in different directions than you would see in more conventional cinema. His film Looper for example pays almost no attention to how time travel works, instead focusing on the ways it could be used criminally, how alternate timelines would be affected, and how the characters’ emotions come into play.
This is by far the most unique of the Star Wars movies to date, so if you’re looking for another space adventure movie where the story is building up to a big battle that fixes everything in the end, this is not it! Every prediction (except one) that I had for this movie was wrong. None of my expectations for the characters or story were met, but instead went in very interesting and different directions.
Let’s talk about the more straightforward aspects first. Mark Hamill gave his best performance yet as Luke Skywalker, and the writing delves more into aspects of his personality that have only been hinted at in previous movies. Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren have also improved over their already impressive performances from The Force Awakens; they are clearly going to be the core around which these movies revolve. Carrie Fisher as Leia gave a final performance that played the right notes at the right times, including a very emotional scene that I can’t discuss without going into spoilers! Oscar Isaacs as Poe has more screen time and development here, and John Boyega does well as Finn, but their performances are somewhat eclipsed by the actors previously mentioned.
…and then there’s Kelly Marie Tran as a new character named Rose. I HATED this character while I was in the theater. Something constantly seemed off about her mannerisms and her involvement seemed to throw a wrench into the plot at times. Near the end I didn’t find her to be quite as bad, but still wish she hadn’t been there. However, I started thinking about the film as a whole on my way home and the next day I realized a few things and how she related to the story, particularly the message that the movie was trying to get across. She still remains my least favorite character, but I find myself liking her more every time I reflect on her role.
The battle scenes and effects were even better looking than in The Force Awakens, which to me always looked more like an Abrams movie rather than a Star Wars movie. Here, the aesthetic is much closer to that of the original trilogy. Supreme Leader Snoke in particular looks ten times better than he did before. There’s a space battle at the beginning that starts this movie off on a high note, though what that leads to later in the plot is admittedly not as exciting as I was hoping it would be.
Those are all the more superficial aspects of The Last Jedi, but like an iceberg there’s more under the surface than what you can see. The points made here about the cycle of war in the galaxy, why Luke is on that planet, Rey’s parents, the nature of the Force, and Snoke’s part in all this take the story in directions that will defy a lot of fans’ expectations, especially ones who have read the books from the last few decades. Instead the viewer’s brain is fed a lot of new information that can’t be processed during the run-time. I’m not going to discuss spoilers this week, but I will say that I have no idea where the series is going to go from here.
As I mentioned before, I had ONE prediction about this movie that turned out to be correct: that Rian Johnson would take the series in an unexpected direction. Fans will be split on this one for at least the next year, and I need to see it at least one more time to assign it a permanent rating in a follow up review. I’m excited to go see this again with Hanna! For now, though…
TENTATIVE Rating: 4/5 ★★★★