This isn’t our childhood Star Wars, nor is it deeply rooted in nostalgia. The Last Jedi continues the Skywalker saga with an inverted heroes journey of Kylo Ren and his continuous struggle with being pulled from the dark side back to the light, yet the film is this unorthodox mixture of overt silly comedy, beautiful set pieces, and a richly transgressive overtone and aesthetic.
Rian Johnson fundamentally changed the genetic makeup of the saga film. Sure, there are plot points and beats that are akin to The Empire Strikes Back, but there is little affinity between the two films. Johnson took what Abrams built with The Force Awakens and slowed the story down, he brought it to a much smaller and intimate scale by focusing on the internal emotions of not just Kylo Ren and Rey, but most importantly Luke Skywalker.
The return of Skywalker is jarring. He has essentially become the anti Luke Skywalker. He’s in self imposed exile, but unlike Yoda who had been awaiting Luke’s arrival on Dagobah, Luke is waiting to die and by doing so, bringing the Jedi to an end. Luke’s story is heartbreaking, and Mark Hamill is transformative as the sorrowful Jedi who failed his padawan, Ben Solo, by preventing his pull to the dark side. Hamill matches and exceeds Harrison Ford’s return as Han Solo in The Force Awakens.
The film isn’t without its flaws. Finn is given a subplot with a new character named Rose that really doesn’t go anywhere. Captain Phasma is a marvelous tease yet again. And there is a glaring and undeniable question mark over what the hell is going on with Supreme Leader Snoke. Granted, some of these issues very well may be addressed and resolved in Episode 9, but there are a few unresolved character arcs and frankly, some ignored characters that will bother a lot of die hard Star Wars fans.
There are many surpises in The Last Jedi, some of them are foreshadowed and some are not. The film is unlike any Star Wars film prior; at times it is very violent, very dark, and even hostile towards the audience. For as unconventional as Rogue One was, that film was steeped in so much original trilogy nostalgia that all the risks that were taken were not a shock to the system. Not only is The Last Jedi an unconventional Star Wars film, it is just as much an unorthodox tentpole franchise blockbuster too. After viewing the film, it comes at absolutely no surprise that Rian Johnson got his own Star Wars trilogy as a reward for creating such a uniquely beautiful film.
Review by Frank Mengarelli