After a resurgence in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens,” the epic Star Wars franchise continues with “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.” It’s full of twists, familiar characters, and emotive action. However, “The Last Jedi” doesn’t quite surpass “The Force Awakens.”
The Rebel Resistance, with General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) at the helm, flee their base when a menacing First Order fleet arrives. X-wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), executes an attack on the First Order which, though successful, comes at great cost to the Rebels Alliance.
Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) reaches planet Ach-To in search of renowned Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Yet upon arrival, Skywalker initially refuses to take Rey as an apprentice. While he eventually agrees, it’s ultimately a reluctant resignation.
Whereas “The Force Awakens” essentially rehashed “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope,” don’t expect a recycled version of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” for “The Last Jedi.” Instead, “Star Wars: Episode VIII” assumes its own path. It’s filled with twists from the onset, often double or even triple feints. Notably, “The Last Jedi” probes Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) character. During an attack on the rebel fleet, Ren hesitates to fire, clearly conflicted. Several scenes present Rey and Ren communicating remotely via the Force, and again Kylo appears unstable in his allegiances.
Similarly, much of the film focuses on Skywalker and the evolution of his character. Shockingly, Luke is far from the renowned Jedi Master which he once was. Rather, he’s a hermit attempting to reject the Force. Unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) during his hermitude on Tatooine, Skywalker resists teaching Rey the ways of the force. Moreover, his account of training Kylo Ren differs from Ren’s narrative. Luke claims that while training Kylo, he saw the dark future of his then-pupil. It’s reminiscent of when Luke believed to have seen a premonition of Han (Harrison Ford) and Leia’s deaths while on Dagobah in “Empire Strikes Back.”
In this regard, “The Last Jedi” is rather nuanced. While previous Star Wars films presented a stark contrast of good and evil, “The Last Jedi” brings added subtleties its characters, especially Skywalker and Kylo. Daisy Ridley steals the show as Rey, an incredibly likable character and strong lead. Dameron is delightfully rebellious and overly eager. There’s an engaging sideq
uest which fines former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) gallivanting about the galaxy with Rebel maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). During this mission, Finn and Rose link up with DJ, an oddball codebreaker portrayed by master of quirky characters Benicio del Toro. Several actors reprise their familiar roles: Anthony Daniels as C-3PO, Peter Mahyew and Joonas Suotamo appearing again as Chewbacca, Tim Rose as Admiral Ackbar, and even Mike Quinn pops up as Nien Nunb. Laura Dern lends her talents as the inspirational Vice Admiral Holdo.
Action is generally solid, and emotive. “The Last Jedi” fosters genuine tension, occasionally with a strong payoff. A few beloved side characters are unceremoniously killed off, and one major character perishes. Still, “Episode VIII” lacks the gut-wrenching power of past films. There’s no serious moment matching Han Solo’s death in “Force Awakens,” or Obi-Wan’s demise in “A New Hope.” Partially, that’s mere execution. But it’s also because of the awkward humor which permeates the film. Admittedly, the Star Wars franchise has always included comedic moments, whether intentional or unintentional. However, “The Last Jedi” provides a bit too much humor, often with CGI creatures. Let’s be honest, the Porgs may have been intended as the Ewoks of “The Last Jedi,” but in reality they’re slightly less annoying than Jar Jar Binks (Ahmed Best). Perhaps if the Porgs had a purpose, as the Ewoks did in the battle of Endor, they would have been more acceptable. As is, the Porgs serve a dual purpose: to infuse levity, as well as make for movie tie-in merchandise.
Similarly, effects, while mostly on point, occasionally falter. When used to set an environment, the CG is masterful. Ships whiz by, explosions appear realistic, and alien worlds radiate with awe-inspiring epic grandeur. “Prometheus” provides a prime example of how CGI can be properly utilized to create a lush backdrop. But “The Last Jedi” stumbles in its presentation of creatures. Practical effects in the original trilogy trounce many of the computer animated creatures in “Episode VIII.”
Moreover, while it’s refreshing that “The Last Jedi” doesn’t merely reboot “Empire Strikes Back,” it falls short in a few areas. Namely, though appreciated, there are a few too many twists. One final scene finds a major character in a near-death battle with the First Order. The narrow escape feels too convenient. Unlike “Empire Strikes Back,” which devoted substantial time to showing Luke’s training, Rey seemingly transforms from budding Jedi apprentice to master after little training. There’s a bit of a forced romance between Finn and Rose which doesn’t quite have the organic “I love you” and “I know” of the Leia-Han relationship. Snoke (Andy Serkis) is far less menacing than Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Again, the CG lends Snoke a cartoonish vibe. But it’s his confusing combination of power and naivete which makes him a joke. Though Snoke boasts the ability previously unseen in any Star Wars film, to connect Force-filled individuals mentally, he’s blindsided by a pretty obvious betrayal.
Overall, “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” succeeds in many areas. It avoids rehashing “The Empire Strikes Back,” offers plentiful twists, and remains an exciting continuation of the sprawling Star Wars universe. However, it doesn’t quite match past series entries. It’s ultimately an enjoyable film with a few flaws which prevent it from surpassing its predecessors. But hey, it’s certainly better than the prequel trilogy or epic clusterfuck that’s the Holiday Special.