Ever since Disney purchased Lucasfilm and its monstrous franchise, Star Wars, most fans of the space-traveling sci-fi series have been cautiously optimistic about where they may be taken next within this galaxy set far, far away. And while Disney's gluttonous merchandising of the series has been one-part exciting / one-part embarrassing, it's also not at all surprising or unexpected (and in some ways, not at all unwanted). But the Mouse House has been surprisingly careful and strategic with how they're handling this beloved brand. 2015's soft reboot of the series in the form of Episode 7, The Force Awakens, went on to become the highest grossing film at the box office of all-time, polarizing fans as a love-to-hate entry in the series. That film has since been diagnosed largely as a rehash of the original 1977 film, Star Wars (AKA A New Hope), introducing very little that's actually new. But two more years -- and a wonderful side story in Rogue One -- later, and we have Episode 8, the direct follow-up to Force Awakens and the 8th episode in the Skywalker Saga.
I was completely unfamiliar with director Rian Johnson's work, so upon hearing about him taking the helm for Episode 8, I got my hands on a copy of The Brothers Bloom (a movie I actually had been interested in after originally seeing previews for it, but had never gotten around to seeing it). What I discovered was an off-the-wall indie comedy with fun characters, a great script, and a unique storytelling style. While I wasn't sure how this would translate to the Star Wars world, my interest was certainly stirred for what Johnson could bring to the franchise.
The promos for Star Wars: The Last Jedi have been rather ominous, but they tease enough familiar concepts to justify feelings of fear that Episode 8 may be a retread of Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back. We saw a young Jedi being trained by a master. We saw land speeders attacking gigantic walkers. And bits and pieces of the imagery just screamed for this film to do nothing but continue to piggyback on the original trilogy. Thankfully, these hunches were not true. While, yes, there are some similar elements to Empire in Last Jedi, a retread it is most certainly not. The film opens in what seems to be maybe a few days or weeks after the events of The Force Awakens, and then it takes us to Luke's island where we first see Luke and Rey meet (and finally speak). Meanwhile, we finally get to see Supreme Leader Snoke in the flesh as he confronts his apprentice, Kylo Ren, about his failure against Rey. The stakes seem a bit higher this time around, too, as the Resistance take some nasty hits from the First Order in retaliation.
It was great seeing Luke Skywalker's long awaited return to the big screen, but now I can certainly see why Mark Hamill struggled with some of the choices Rian Johnson made for the character. Furthermore, it's another semi-faithful treatment of one of the original characters that isn't entirely handled as satisfyingly as it could have been. To be fair, every longtime fan of the original trilogy will have their own ideas of where these characters should go (or have gone). But doing things like killing off a main character in the previous entry, The Force Awakens, does nothing but sour the victory at the end of 1983's sixth chapter, Return of the Jedi and turn a happy ending into a somewhat heartbreaking one. The Last Jedi does satisfyingly address the dismissal of Han Solo, but his absence is surely felt, and it still stings to know we'll never see the original dynamic trio together again on the big screen.
The Force Awakens had the tough task of having to introduce all new characters and make us care about them, so there wasn't a ton of time to show a lot of depth there. Some dialog between Leia and Han in that film are some of the weakest moments of the film, whereas, in The Last Jedi, there really aren't any weak spots in the acting department. Even Carrie Fisher, who seemed a bit rusty in the previous outing, was wonderful here. And since her passing a year ago, it's fitting to see her final performance be a really good one. Mark Hamill delivers as well, even if he is playing a grumpy old version of the character. Daisy Ridley is also solid once again, proving she was an inspired choice for the lead in the new trilogy. Adam Driver, meanwhile, is also good, but because his character calls for him to be sort of a whiny, temperamental villain-in-training, he's far less menacing than what one would expect for the franchise's "Big Bad." If you try to compare Kylo Ren to Darth Vader, there's just really no comparison. However, the story actually addresses this head on, and it helps separate this trilogy from what's come before it (Even to the point where Anakin couldn't help going down that path, while Kylo is trying to force it but has trouble making it happen). Unexpected things unfold in The Last Jedi, and it's that unpredictability that makes it all the more enjoyable.
There's a lot to unpack when talking about this film (but it's tough to discuss when you're trying not to reveal any spoilers) -- and it throws a lot at the viewer, giving them a lot to process, especially if that viewer is a diehard fan (like this reviewer). I, personally, grew up on the original trilogy as a child, then saw the prequel trilogy in my post-college years, and am now experiencing a new trilogy, which involves the heart of the original trilogy, as a father to a young son. I rewatched Episodes 4, 5, 6 and 7 with my son leading up to Episode 8 (all of which he has seen before too), and this was the very first time I experienced a brand new Star Wars movie at the same time he was (he's 7 now). He absolutely loved it. Plus the experience of revisiting the originals leading up to this new story only helps the experience.
The content of the film is on par with The Force Awakens. There are plenty of explosions that consume the lives of people on ships and in speeders, and one character is cut in half with a lightsaber and then we see their body fall apart. It's not gory, but it's a little gruesome. Somehow, it still doesn't feel as gruesome as some of the violence in Revenge of the Sith, even though in ways it is worse. A couple action scenes show helmeted characters being impaled with lightsabers and, in one instance, a quick shot of one of the helmeted heads getting cut off with a saber. There's a minimal amount of blood shown--mostly in the form of some bloody lips or cuts on a character's arm or something, but it's never focused on. The worst, in this case, might be the deep scar we see on Kylo's face and shoulder from Rey's lightsaber blow dealt at the end of The Force Awakens. Lastly, there's a little language, but it's just a couple uses of "d*mn," "h*ll," and one each of "b*stard" and "*ss."
There are some many stellar moments in this film for a Star Wars fan. Whether it's a surprise appearance by a favorite character or a very meaningful callback to the original film that really hits the fan right in the heart, these "fan service" moments feel organic and natural for this Star Wars universe. At the same time, things like unnecessary creature-centric moments or the impossibly cute birds, called porgs, probably feel out of place to an adult viewer, but if we're honest with ourselves, it's become rather expected for Star Wars. The prequel series may have abused this aspect of the franchise, but the original trilogy certainly had their ewoks and other surrounding creatures. Other overtly comedic or almost cartoonish moments occasionally spring up during the film, and they can be a bit jarring at times (like seeing Luke milking a large beast), but it's ultimately forgivable. (Only time will tell how those moments hold up with repeat viewings.)
Here we are, three films into Disney's revival of Star Wars. As a lifelong fan, I'm finding more things about these new movies to get excited about than to get bent out of shape over. I can't remember the last time I was this excited to see a new movie and The Last Jedi delivered. Where the franchise will be going next is unknown (and I have my concerns), but there's serious potential for more greatness and exciting Star Wars adventures, and that's enough for me. If you liked The Force Awakens, or even if you had problems with it but like aspects of it, The Last Jedi shouldn't disappoint. After realizing how much The Force Awakens retread the 1977 original story a little too much, I found myself saying I'd forgive it if the following movies took things in fresh, new directions. After seeing this next installment--at this point, after having just watched it once--I'm happy to say that The Last Jedi is a worthy entry into the Star Wars canon (despite it being kind of a game changer in some ways), and I do look forward to revisiting it again and again.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/15/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Maz makes a passing, vaguely lustful remark about a handsome man, to which Finn and Rose make surprised expressions when they realize what she's implying.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 "d*mmit," 1 "d*mn," 2 "h*ll," 1 "*ss," 1 "b*stard"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see some drinking in champagne glasses and such in a casino.
Blood/Gore: Hux has blood on his mouth after hitting his face on the floor; We see Kylo Ren's scar from the previous film in several stages of healing, but it's pretty deep and noticeable; Snoke's face looks sunken and scarred; Rey gets a bloody cut on her shoulder during a fight (but it's not focused on); A character is impaled by a lightsaber and then we see it cut all the way through (leaving a black burned, charred look). The top part of the character's body then falls over to the floor. Later we see a close-up of the dead character's face and the two halves of the body lying on the floor; Some characters have bloody cuts or bruises on their faces after battle; A female character has a slightly bloody cut on her forehead and some blood on her face.
Violence: A character is thrown to the ground violently by a Force user; We see several space battles where bomber ships drop bombs or are blown up. TIE fighters and X-Wings blow up and crash, with many characters dying off screen; We see a dramatic scene where a girl pilot lays helpless in the bombing bay of a ship just before it explodes; Kylo violently smashes his helmet into an elevator wall, cracking the glass and shattering his mask; We see some Jedi training with Rey swinging around a lightsaber or her staff; We see a character briefly use Force lightning; A character Force-chokes another character; A character is impaled by a lightsaber and then we see it cut all the way through (leaving a black burned, charred look). The top part of the character's body then falls over to the floor. Later we see a close-up of the dead character's face and the two halves of the body lying on the floor; A ship flies through another ship, causing lots of destruction and casualties; A character uses lightning to set a structure on fire; An explosion causes characters to fly out the side of a ship, with most of them dying; On two different occasions we see two different characters in healing pods; There's a big lightsaber battle against guards with blades and staffs; Some characters are caught and subdued; Two characters are almost executed before an explosion saves them; A character is struck in the face with an electric staff and then falls through fire, presumably to their death; Large walker vehicles are seen shooting at land speeders; A character nearly sacrifices themselves but is rescued at the last moment; Some speeders chase two characters riding large animals through a city as they crash through walls and buildings, wreaking all kinds of havoc; A large walker fires heavily on the position of a person, trying to kill them; We see a scene twice from two different perspectives where a person raises a lightsaber to kill an unarmed person but then doesn't. It leads to a brief fight; We see a building on fire; And lots of other sci-fi related action violence.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.