Note: This review contains NO spoilers for the film.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has a tall, and near impossible, order to fulfill. Not only must it follow-up J.J. Abrams’ crowd-pleasing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it must elevate the stakes in a similar way that The Empire Strikes Back did for the original Star Wars; and herein is where its biggest challenge lies.
With it needing to fulfill some of the same key aspects of storytelling that The Empire Strikes Back trail-blazed back in 1980, anything that Star Wars: The Last Jedi does will likely feel like a bit of a retread. In fact, going into the movie, that was perhaps my biggest concern. Based on all the marketing, it felt like it would very much fall in line with expectations set by The Empire Strikes Back. Our heroes would get found by the First Order before splitting off into their own adventures, and coming back at the end in some way, right?
Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil you by getting into any specifics. However, I will say that within the first 20 minutes or so of the movie, it was very clear that this was no Empire Strikes Back clone. Don’t let those TV spots fool you. This is a very different experience.
But is it a good one?
After having nearly a full day to digest the movie, I think I can confidently say that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie to date. I know, it’s a bold claim, and one that will likely be ridiculed for being too caught up in having just seen the thing, but even if I look objectively on it from a storytelling perspective, I can’t help but come to the same conclusion. Let’s delve into why (without spoiling, of course).
Let’s start with the story. While I won’t get into any specifics, this is the first Star Wars movie that is largely built around a ticking clock. For the first time, our heroes are in a nerve-wracking race against time — and man, is it tense! It also helps that the stakes of this one as are high as ever. Ironically enough, while the stakes are as high as ever, the scope is smaller than ever, and I think one could argue that it’s because of this character focus that these stakes matter so much.
More than anything, this film is focused on a select few heroes (as every movie is), but it does such an amazing job that the impact of their personal stories can be felt throughout the entire war. Never before have I felt like absolutely everything was on the line, and it gave a real weight to the story that’s never been present in this franchise before.
And then there are the characters. Again, like the story, I worried that each of the characters would fall comfortably into specific slots predesignated by The Empire Strikes Back. After watching this film, it’s very clear that the likes of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, and the rest are very much their own characters with their own journeys and goals. Sure, there may be some parallels here and there that fans can point to, but by and large, the similarities fall away very quickly.
These characters are not only different, but they also come with very powerful arcs in this movie. Yes, this film is the second in a new trilogy of a much larger series (and you’ll feel that), but writer-director Rian Johnson was clearly very dedicated to making sure that it was as emotionally satisfying as possible. Yes, certain plot points are dependent on you somewhat understanding the other films, and overall, it’ll have a lot more impact if you’re aware of the film franchise’s history, but I think the story itself is such a strong, self-contained entity that the emotional journey these characters all go through will resonate well with new viewers as well.
There is one last aspect that I can speak of without spoiling anything, and that has to do with the risks it takes. Too often in big franchises do we get the impression that the filmmakers are holding off for future films. This is the second part of a story, so we have to leave plenty of questions for the next film, right? Yes, the film does leave us with some questions, but never in it did it feel like they were holding back on answers for the sake of leaving them for a future film. This movie is very interested in giving audiences what they want now, and it’s a thrill to experience.
On the whole, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a tense and rewarding ride that fans will undoubtedly be pleased with. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens before it, it builds off the legacy that came before it, but unlike The Force Awakens, it doesn’t feel like it’s retreading the same ground as previous installments. Instead, it’s confident enough to go off in its own bold new direction, and it’s because of this bold direction that fans will be discussing this one to death for the next two years until Star Wars: Episode IX comes out (and likely even long past that).
Like The Empire Strikes Back, I think Star Wars: The Last Jedi will stand up as one of the most beloved films in the franchise yet.
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