Nine films into the franchise (if you include Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) there are certain eye-rolling tropes that one comes to expect from a Star Wars film. There will be a plan involving sneaking behind enemy lines. The Millennium Falcon (or fill in the heroic spaceship of your choice) will need to fly through some tight crevice to evade pursuing ships. There will be at least one epic dog fight in space.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi incorporates many of these elements while still taking a bold step forward.
Director Rian Johnson has constructed a film that asks his characters, and in many ways hardcore Star Wars fans themselves, to finally break free of the past that has been holding them back for so long. This is not to say one must erase the past completely, but rather learn from it and move on.
Moving on is something that each of the central characters wrestles with in some fashion or another. For Rey (Daisy Ridley) it is facing the truth about her parents. For Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) it is confronting the mistakes he made as a teacher. For Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), it is understanding that heroism and leadership are not solely about selfish acts. For Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) it is breaking away from the legacy of others which hangs over him like a storm cloud.
These internal conflicts are explored over two concurrent story threads. The first thread involves the remaining Rebel Alliance on the run after The First Order discovers the location of their base of operations. Running out of fuel and suffering great casualties in the process, Poe, Finn and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) devise a secret plan to defuse the enemy’s tracking device. A scheme that will not only have them betraying Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), interim Rebel leader, but also seeking the assistance of a talented codebreaker, the greedy DJ (Benicio Del Toro).
The other plot strand focuses on Rey as she attempts to convince the reclusive Luke to help the resistance once again. While trying to sway the reluctant Jedi, Rey continues to further test her powers and unexpectedly finds herself tied to Kylo Ren via some sort of mind link. This causes Rey to question what really happened between Luke and Kylo Ren, and whether the latter has truly been engulfed by the dark side.
A thoroughly entertaining film, The Last Jedi is filled with many exciting and visually stunning set pieces. The action sequences within Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) throne room and the battle on the red sand infused planet of Crait are thrilling sights to behold.
Johnson’s film does not merely rely on its moments of spectacle though. The Last Jedi is one of the few films in the franchise that takes an honest look at the failures of the Jedi, and the iconic mythos that their presence has created. The legacy of the Jedi is not in their lightsaber wielding duals. Nor is it in the ways in which audiences feel an unjustified sense of ownership over what can and cannot happen in the Star Wars universe.
The lasting power of the Jedi is the sense of hope that they inspire. Even a nobody can be somebody important.
As with any great story passed on to a new generation, there is a nice blending of the old and the new in Johnson’s film. There are several nods to The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi while offering a new perspective that plays with our expectations.
Though still a tale of good and evil, Johnson’s film shows that such distinctions are not always so clear when it comes to the business of war.
If Disney magically had a change of heart and decided that this was to be the last film in this particular saga (Disney has already announced that there will be a new trilogy free from the longstanding Skywalker narrative after J.J. Abrams’ Episode IX) then I would not complain. The Last Jedi feels like the perfect way to put the past to bed.