“It’s time for the Jedi to end,” somberly exclaimed Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the many trailers, now hoary-headed and grizzled of beard and attitude.
Skywalker’s pronouncements may as well be of an angry old man telling a boisterous good-for-nothing kid to “Get off my front yard!”, but Daisy Ridley, as the expectant apprentice Rey, is anything but. After all, she came to the master to be trained to, hopefully, pose a challenge to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), his Sith master and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), and the rest of the ascendant fascists of the galaxy.
As a passing of the guard for the Jedi Order, the story arcs never disappoint and never fall into any stray threads or dead ends in lieu of fan service. What’s more, TLJ is lovingly crafted by director Rian Johnson and crew, whose product shows that they know the weight of the franchise canon, and the high stakes of fan hearts and minds, and that they are also keenly aware that this mythos needs to move forward, go somewhere unexpected, thrilling, and worthy of the hero’s journey that started with A New Hope.
Thus, it is by subverting almost all expectations that TLJ stands out from the franchise, hitting all the high notes for fan boys, while juggling three different story arcs. And there are also about five major plot twists (three of which were completely unpredictable) that we won’t go into at all, because we’re not killjoys at FHM.
Primary among the threads is the Rey-Luke-Ren story triangle—full of drama and a mystical intimacy that only those who share in a secret and elite ability can possess.
In the absence of any Jedi opposition, the Sith have wasted no time slithering themselves into the waiting power vacuum. Ren and Snoke aren’t exactly the kind of Sith Lords cut from the Vader and Palpatine cloth of magnitude, but they do the best they can and they’ve been mostly effective at the slaughter.
Ren is having a bitch of a time convincing Skywalker to leave his misbegotten backwater of a former Jedi outpost, and all the time she consumes not training means more of the rebels die. Hamill’s Luke isn’t just a bitter self-exiled old man; he is also a master weighed down by the far-reaching scale of his choices and mistakes. Thus, he has decided to extricate himself from the tangle of things so that the balance of power does not shift in a fashion too extreme.
The emotional bond between Rey and Luke is charged with pathos, not only because latter is haunted by his grievous failures in training an apprentice, and thus his reluctance to extend his hand and train another, but also because the former is impetuous, impulsive, and passionate—all of which serves as both sweet nostalgia and bitter reminder to the mentor of his glory days, which the film alludes to in touching, nuanced parallels.
Meantime, revelations from Luke and Ren’s past expose a sinister and very personal relationship between the two, the best kind that hurts and wounds as only one of love and betrayal by someone you hold dear can. Which explains why Kylo is such an emotive, temperamental mess prone to manipulation by gurus, father figures, and, well, a Sith Lord like Snoke. Driver plays this scorned and raging man with a mask fixation with very human notes, making him a villain that’s complex and sympathetic.
Rey and Ren’s bond is also forming quickly, as they too discover a kind of mystic communique. It’s a poetic reminder that, from a high point, the Force does indeed bind all, both Jedi and Sith and that, as an impartial tool, it cares not for the politics, applications, or intentions of its power. Rey sees in the former Ben Solo a troubled and yet still salvageable soul, while Ren sees a potential recruit in the impetuous and clever Rey. So they continue to talk it out, Force-style. Who will turn whom?
The second thread takes us to the frontlines of the fight against The First Order, where the embattled ragtag rebellion is led by Carrie Fisher (RIP) as Gen. Leia Organa, the kind of decisive and strong woman you’d want to be leading any thrust against a pompous empire.
As exciting dogfights and guerilla tactics play out among the stars, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) adds battle wounds to his lists of ship kills by locking horns with the rebel leaders, including Leia, and the mesmerizing, purple-haired Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). As the fleet of the First Order chases them Poe asks: Why shouldn’t they face the threat head on and attack? Why, as the Vice Admiral proposes, get the hell out of Dodge, and die tired?
The third, weakest, but no less entertaining thread revolves around Finn (John Boyega), and the wily and gritty on-ship mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), who want to help Rey and Poe, and the general rebel cause by zooming off to a rich planet to find a codebreaker.
This last arc is worth it for the gorgeous scenes of the gambling planet and the Canto Bight Casino, where Rose and Finn get into hilarious misadventures with a, surprise, weirdly hypnotic and smug criminal in the person of Benicio Del Toro (I think his name is DJ, but I didn’t hear him called that).
The Last Jedi is a film that reaches out its to embrace what we’ve all loved about the franchise and succeeds with flying colors because it strikes the right mix: balancing holy geek moments of lightsaber combat, issues of morality and metaphysics, and questions about The Force, with the terra firma narratives of prison escapes, courage lent by friends against very bad odds, and well-placed humor through awkward moments, cute animals, and even ye olde schadenfreude.
Fire up your lightsabers, guys, this one is as good as The Empire Strikes Back.
The Last Jedi is now showing in IMAX, IMAX 3D and regular theaters