Review – Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

Here we are, at the most-anticipated movie event of 2017!  Two years ago, J. J. Abrams’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens stampeded into theaters and broke almost every record there is to break (curse you, Avatar!) and now, Rian Johnson (Looper) tries his hand at both writing and directing the next chapter in the preeminent film franchise with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

As always, I will be avoiding spoilers and this is one of those films that is tough to discuss while doing so, but I’ll do my best.  Rather than discussing what the film is about (other than the eternally enduring struggle between good and evil), I’ll just state that it picks up where The Force Awakens leaves off.  For some characters, it begins shortly after we last saw them and, for others, it begins immediately after we last saw them.  And I’ll end the storyline discussion with that.

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Johnson accomplishes a lot in the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running time, seemingly finding a way to satisfy virtually anyone who plunks down their money to watch it.  Those anticipating sci-fi action sequences will not be disappointed.  There’s not a dull moment to be found anywhere.  You like hand-to-hand combat?  You’ll have to search high and low to find any better.  You like military-style weaponized combat?  Brace yourselves.  Vehicular battles?  Hope these people have insurance.  No matter what your flavor is, there’s plenty to taste, and very little downtime amidst all of the excitement.

The dialogue is sharp and commanding, making it very easy to pay attention.  The story flows well, though it takes longer for the more relevant developments to occur than I would have liked.  But don’t worry; it gets there.  All the groundwork is important and is laid very carefully.  Initially, it feels like half of the film is comprised of a time-killing subplot with no long-term consequences.  I felt myself getting slightly impatient, but it was all for nothing.  The film is also pretty easily the funniest Star Wars film, but when I say that, I mean in terms of quality of humor, not quantity.  The film isn’t an action-comedy such as many of Marvel’s recent films.  But when Johnson works humor into the proceedings to lighten the mood, said humor sticks the landing like Kerri Strug (look it up, kids).

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The Last Jedi sticks to the classic battle between the light and dark sides (it wouldn’t be a true Star Wars film, otherwise) but goes deeper by addressing some thematic gray areas.  This idea was introduced in The Force Awakens and is expounded upon in this new installment with great success.  Life is never simple, and many characters struggle with that as they realize with increasing distress that nothing is as easy as we would all like it to be.  I really appreciate this added layer of complexity and it greatly contributes to the mystery and suspense of the film.

The cast, both old and new, own their roles and deliver to perfection.  Oscar Isaac might be my favorite of the whole bunch as he seems completely at ease and comfortable in his role as Poe Dameron, and thankfully sees extended screen time when compared to The Force Awakens.  John Boyega is as endearing as ever as Finn.  Daisy Ridley continues her ascent to iconic status as Rey.  Adam Driver provides a powerfully layered turn as Kylo Ren that many people will be talking about in all the right circles.  Mark Hamill brings Luke Skywalker back to his roots, adding to the character’s legacy while staying true to what we’ve known about him from the beginning.  And, of course, Carrie Fisher’s reportedly-final performance as General Leia Organa is one to be remembered.  Throw new characters portrayed by Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) and Kelly Marie Tran (XOXO) into the mix and it’s a crowded but effective group of talented performers.

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Ultimately, The Last Jedi is a memorable, powerful, and immensely enjoyable film that earns its spot in Star Wars lore.  It does suffer a bit from Middle Chapter Syndrome, where there’s neither a solid beginning nor end, but that’s almost entirely offset by the new storyline developments and ongoing character development.  This particular Star Wars trilogy has developed a symbiotic relationship with its cast and crew, as they feed off of the mythology and in turn have breathed new life into the property.  The Last Jedi only amplifies that association and the audience benefits from it more than anyone else.  Waiting two years to see the surprises that are in store for the conclusion will be tough, but also worthwhile, I’m sure.  Until then, we can repeatedly enjoy everything that The Last Jedi has to offer, which is more than enough for the next two years and far beyond.

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