Mark Reviews Movies

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi


3.5 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, Peter Mayhew, Benicio Del Toro, Andy Serkis, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong'o

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence)

Running Time: 2:31

Release Date: 12/15/17

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 14, 2017

"Let the past die," says the villain, who has modeled himself in look and approach after his villainous grandfather. One could call the villain hypocritical in his outlook—denying the power of the past while embracing the aspects he admires. It's seen as a struggle, though, since, like his forebear, the villain here is caught between good and evil—or, in the series' language, the light and the dark. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi has a similar struggle. It's between the old and the new, the past and the present, and the desire to create something different and the necessity of returning to the series' formula.

That this struggle comes through within the narrative shows the benefits of handing over the series to new minds. This time, it's writer/director Rian Johnson taking the reins of the eighth official installment in the Star Wars saga. He clearly knows the material well enough to give us exactly what we expect, and he loves it enough to take it into new territory.

By the end of the film, we have no idea where this new sequence of stories from a long time ago in this galaxy far, far away will go. Some established narrative characteristics are re-affirmed by the finale, but there's a wild card, too: a hero who comes to represent both possible salvation and the destruction of the old ways. Just from that standpoint, the possibilities of where this tale could go are exciting for the first time in a while.

Before that, though, Johnson treats us to a story that develops the franchise's newest characters, reinvents the characters whom we thought we knew, and examines the constant battle between the past and the present that has come to be the saga's overarching concern. If the previous installment juggled the new characters and the established ones with jovial ease, this one throws the metaphorical balls into the air, watches them crash together, and waits to see how they'll land.

We have Rey (Daisy Ridley), of course, who was last seen on an island in the middle of a vast ocean on some forgotten planet, where Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has been in hiding. We think we know Luke from the original trilogy of films—the young kid, eager for adventure, who transforms into a righteous hero of an ancient, mostly forgotten order of religious knights. His first action upon receiving his old weapon is to toss it off the side of a cliff. His first words to Rey are, "Go away."

Luke has changed. He lives as a hermit. He no longer studies the Force, the mysterious thing that binds the universe together and serves to balance the light with the dark. He's convinced that the order of the Jedi needs to end, and if the galaxy needs a hero to save it from the crushing might of the First Order, that hero is definitely not going to be him.

Meanwhile, after destroying the Republic (and, here, after a whiz-bang space battle of an opening sequence), the First Order—led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, adopting the wicked sneer of a baddie from a Saturday morning serial)—is prepared to destroy the Resistance in one, fell swoop. General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) has one choice: to keep the few, remaining Resistance ships just ahead of the First Order's fleet. The hope is that help or a solution will arrive before they run out of fuel. The reckless and joking flyboy Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, given more to do this time with his character's repeated undermining of the story's more severe elements), the conflicted former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), and mechanical whiz Rose (Kelly Marie Train) come up with another, more daring plan.

The alternative plan fits into a certain mold, as Finn and Rose visit a wealthy planet where the galaxy's elites waste their money on gambling and other luxuries. It's a solid, lengthy sequence that features some of the more imaginative world-building and character designs that we've seen from the series. The subplot also gives Finn, who begins the story still of the mind of running away from his past hardships and present troubles, an opportunity to grow into the sort of hero we'd expect from this. As a bonus, we get Benicio Del Toro as a master thief with a cynical outlook on the ways that the First Order and the Resistance are the tools of some other, uncaring force in the galaxy.

The heart of the film, though, is to be found on that island, where the disillusioned Luke and the optimistic Rey find themselves at an impasse about the Force, the distinction between the dark and the light, and the nature of legends against the less romantic reality. It's not just the centerpiece story of the film. It gets to the core of what this new series of films is doing with the mythology of the larger series.

Heroes can make mistakes, as Luke admits to doing in his training of Kylo Ren. The old ways and stories are useful in determining the course of the present, but they are not the be-all and end-all of how to live, act, and be (An unexpected but welcome cameo solidifies this notion). Hamill's performance embodies these ideas in a way that shatters not only our understanding of Luke but also our memories of the sometimes-uncertain actor from those earlier films. His new interpretation of Luke is hardened and filled with remorse and loss.

Everything changes by the end of the film, from the characters (Even Poe, spurred on by Leia, has to confront his recklessness), to what seemed to be this series' central conflict, and to which set of characters—the new ones or the familiar ones—will take up the mantle of this fight. In a subversive way, Johnson creates a paradigm shift with Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. We don't even noticing it happening, because we're caught up in the sights of battles and worlds, the development of the series' characters, and a genuine sense of conflicting ideas being explored and reconciled.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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