STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI review (Spoilers)

A long time ago, at a drive in movie theater down the road from where I live, I witnessed magic.

For the last 38 years or so, STAR WARS has been a part of who I am (I first saw it during the 1979 re-release).  STAR WARS was a part of Christmas every year… well actually for me, it basically was Christmas, at least the gift part.  I had action figures, and a few ships. I had the novelizations of the movies. The night STAR WARS first aired on CBS television, I sat by the TV with a cassette recorder and recorded the audio of my favorite parts of the movie, so I could play them back and listen to them later.

I grew up with Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. I had their action figures, their pictures were on my wall, and at recess, there really wasn’t any other option.

But in 1983, it was over.  The story of Han, Luke, and Leia was over.  And while we’ve had other STAR WARS movies, until 2015’s “The Force Awakens”, additional stories about my generation’s STAR WARS heroes was limited to books and comics (many of which weren’t very good).

2015’s “The Force Awakens” and this weekend’s release of “The Last Jedi” are to me, in many ways, gifts.  I get to see my favorite characters on-screen again, and see things that quite frankly, I’ve believed since 1983 I’d never get to see.

So, what did I think of “The Last Jedi”? Well…

It’s good.  REALLY good.  The film does have some weak points, but ALL of the STAR WARS films do.  But the good is REALLY good, and makes it so very easy to forget about any issues.

Mark Hamill is AMAZING as Luke Skywalker. Much like his character, he is a master of his craft and gives us the most complex, nuanced version of Luke that we’ve seen. This is not the Luke Skywalker of the original trilogy.  This is a man with a broken heart – not from lost romantic love, but from his own self-perceived failures and the betrayal of his nephew and student, Ben Solo. Mark plays Luke with a genuine honesty.

We pick up with Rey and Luke where we left them at the end of “The Force Awakens”, with Rey about to hand Luke’s old lightsaber (actually, Anakin’s lightsaber) to him. In what might be the biggest bait-and-switch in the history of film, there isn’t an epic, dialogue-heavy moment here – Luke actually tosses the saber over his shoulder and off a cliff.  His first words in the film are “go away”. Luke doesn’t want to be bothered.  Even when Rey tells him “Your sister Leia sent me”, he won’t respond.

In one of my favorite scenes, Chewie busts down the door of Luke’s hut. Luke’s response when he realizes Han isn’t there is so subtle but so touching – he wasn’t interested when Rey said Leia sent her, but his simple “Where’s Han?” shows he still cares about his friend.

One of the treats of the movie is seeing Luke actually train a new student.  For years, I’ve tried to imagine what that would actually be like. We get tastes of it in the old Expanded Universe novels, but I’ve always wanted to SEE this.  Would he teach like Yoda did, or more like Obi-Wan? Would it be a mix or his own teaching philosophy? While the training scenes are more brief than Luke’s own lessons with Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back”, they’re fascinating scenes, with director Rian Johnson throwing in some interesting visuals while Rey meditates on the Force connecting light, dark, death, life, etc.  I truly enjoyed every moment that Mark was on-screen.  He was perfect.

Daisy Ridley shines as Rey. She has some great, emotional moments in this film. Her interactions with Luke are very good, but she shines the most in the scenes she shares with Adam Driver aka Kylo Ren. This is a relationship unlike any we’ve seen before in STAR WARS, and it will be very interesting to see where they go with it.

Carrie Fisher is very solid in the film as well, returning for her final performance as Leia. Her performance in “The Force Awakens” was a little weak for me, but she knocks it out of the park here.  Leia’s wit is back… “3PO, wipe that nervous expression off your face”.  Leia’s leadership is felt in the resistance, and her efforts to teach Poe to be a leader instead of just a hot-shot pilot are great moments.

But the incredible Leia moment for me comes about 40 minutes into the movie (I didn’t time it, that’s a guesstimate).  During a battle, the bridge of Leia’s ship is hit, and the viewport of the bridge explodes, sucking everyone (including Leia) into the cold black of space. Using the Force, Leia survives, and what follows is perhaps the most beautifully composed sequence in the entire STAR WARS saga. Appearing angel-like, Leia awakens, and uses the Force to pull herself back to the ship. We have NEVER seen Leia use the Force, and combined with John Williams’ beautiful “Leia’s Theme”, the shot is incredibly moving.  It’s a visual tribute to Carrie Fisher.  Even more touching for me is that Lieutenant Connix – played by Carrie’s real-life daughter Billie Lourd – sees this happen.

The rest of the cast all turn in solid performances.  I won’t go into them all here, because there are other things I want to get to, but everyone was very good. I do have to say a thing or two about newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico. She’s good. REALLY good. She’s a fun, spunky new addition to the family, and she fits right in.

Luke and Leia have one scene together, and it’s beautiful. During the end battle, Luke uses the Force to project himself from his hideaway on Ahch-To to the Rebel base on Crait. Luke and Leia have a touching reunion, with Leia joking about her hair. There is an exchange about Ben/Kylo and how he can’t be saved.  Luke gives Leia the gold dice from the Falcon’s cockpit (which we see him retrieve earlier in the film), and Luke kisses Leia goodbye. The scene is accompanied by a new cut of “Luke and Leia” from John Williams, and it’s perfect in so many ways.

Rian Johnson brings some new aspects of the Force to the table, and I enjoyed the expansion of the lore.  We haven’t seen this many new Force abilities since “Empire”, and it’s refreshing to have new toys in the toybox.

Yoda makes a surprise appearance and teaches Luke a final lesson. It’s a beautiful moment which tugs at the heartstrings, especially the final shot of the scene with Luke and Yoda’s silhouettes, sitting next  to each other in the dark watching a fire burn – all while John Williams works his magic with “Yoda’s Theme”. What I especially liked is this is not a CGI Yoda, it’s a practical rubber puppet – which doesn’t look EXACTLY like the puppets from “Empire” and “Jedi” but LIGHT YEARS better than the puppet from “The Phantom Menace”.

We learn more about the history between Luke and Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. What I enjoyed about this is how it’s told: We hear both Luke and Kylo’s versions of the events, and they basically tell the exact same story, with the exception of one small detail.  We’re hearing their perspectives, and in reality, they both tell the truth as they see it.  Kylo Ren doesn’t lie, he tells Rey exactly what happened. This gives us an incredible representation of Obi-Wan’s lesson to Luke in “Return of the Jedi” – “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view”. Whoa – the filmmaker is trying to teach us the same lesson Obi-Wan taught Luke.

For me, the best part of the entire movie is this: Near the end, Luke confronts Kylo by (as I’ve already mentioned) projecting himself onto the battlefield. Before Kylo strikes what he thinks will be a killing blow, Luke tells him “If you strike me down in anger, I’ll always be with you – like your father”. Kylo then strikes, and of course it doesn’t even touch Luke, because Luke isn’t there. Luke defeats Kylo (for the day anyway) not with brute strength, or even lightsaber skills, but with true Jedi wisdom. As icing on the cake, Luke delivers his last line to Kylo, a very Han Solo-esque “See ya around, kid”.

“The Last Jedi” brings Luke Skywalker’s story to a close. Having expelled all of his energy to project himself across the galaxy to face Kylo, Luke pulls himself back up onto his meditation rock, and, while watching a binary sunset much like the one we see him gaze at in “A New Hope”, becomes one with the Force. While it’s tough for me to think about Luke Skywalker being “gone”, I can’t think of a better, more touching, more fitting way than to use a binary sunset, with Luke at peace with himself, with John Williams’ Force theme setting the tone.  It’s a beautiful, tear-jerking moment, and I’m thankful that Rian Johnson chose to end Luke’s story like this, instead of having Luke fall to Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.

Supreme Leader Snoke meets his demise at the hands of his own apprentice, Kylo Ren. While some may find this odd, it excites me: While we’ve heard stories of dark side apprentices killing their masters and becoming the master themself, we are now SEEING that happen.  It’s something new for us to see, and I’m very excited, knowing that Episode IX won’t be a rehash of Luke/Vader/The Emperor.

Finn and Rose go on a mission together, and while it’s a little long, it does serve an interesting purpose: it gives Finn a better view of the state of the galaxy, and along with it a motivation other than Rey. In “The Force Awakens” and in the beginning of this film, Rey is Finn’s only motivation.  His first word when he wakes up in medical care is “Rey”.  His first question is “Where’s Rey?” early in the film, Finn is planning to bail out on the resistance, find Rey, and run. But Rose shows him another part of the galaxy, and how the First Order is impacting the galaxy, and it gives Finn a reason to fight.

There are so many great moments in this film. The Porgs are ok (my wife and pretty-much everyone else loves them), and while there is some heavy subject matter in this movie, there’s a lot of humor that keeps it light. There’s a great chase sequence with the Millennium Falcon that is pure, unadulterated STAR WARS. SOOO much fun!

I enjoyed “The Last Jedi”. I’ve seen it twice already, and I plan to go again soon.

 

 

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