“It’s time to let old things die.”
The rebels may try to run, but they can no longer hide from the looming shadow of the First Order. While J.J. Abrams’s The Force Awakens (2014) ended in celebration, the beloved underdogs of the galaxy far, far away are now back to square one in Rian Johnson’s much bleaker follow-up, hanging on by the skin of their teeth at every single turn. Literally running low on fuel but with a hell of a lot of guts, The Last Jedi sees the Resistance’s mighty band of heroes dare to try and achieve the impossible, running fearlessly into the eye of the storm in full throttle. With beloved auteur Rian Johnson now behind the wheel, the writer-director pushes each of the characters into unfamiliar territory, creating a truly stunning achievement as the women lead the way in The Last Jedi.
Indeed, times are dire for the Resistance. With the gang spread across the galaxy, each of them are simply scrambling for any semblance of hope for the future of the Rebellion. As Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks guidance and much-needed help from the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she quickly discovers that he wants nothing to do with her or the Resistance, putting his Jedi days far behind him and choosing to live in complete solitude. She must exert the work and patience to earn his trust.
Meanwhile, determined and tough as nails, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is not one to ever give up a fight, backed by her impulsive, hard-headed commander pilot in Poe (Oscar Isaac) as they go head to head with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), who is right on the heels of the Rebellion’s last remaining fleet. On the other hand, Stormtrooper-gone-good Finn (John Boyega) teams up with maintenance worker Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to undertake their own mission and undermine the First Order, all for the sake of the greater good. Mercilessly, however, Johnson doesn’t go easy on any of them, throwing twists and turns along the way that make their collective mission that much more difficult to achieve.
As the longest film of the franchise, Johnson most definitely takes his time establishing each of the main character arcs, though little time is dedicated to actually explaining just how the First Order came to such power, and rather frustratingly, even less about the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). The Last Jedi, in all of its Johnson-branded bleakness and violence, is ultimately not a film about hopelessness, but instead, how the little guys overcome the impossible, and being beacons of light in an overwhelming sea of darkness. The beginning of the end, so it seems, is always just a hop and a skip away. Small as it is, the glimmer of hope never falters.
Naturally, there are those who are constantly trying to snuff it all out. What Snoke lacks in nuance, the prince of darkness himself, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), tries to fill, and to fascinating and exciting results. For all of its wide-eyed hopefulness, The Last Jedi also explores the possibilities of setting things on fire and starting over from both sides of the coin. Despite their wisdom and strength, older leaders like Luke and Leia both struggle to keep their grip on the impending doom of the present, let alone the future. Fortunately, Johnson takes neither of them for granted, as the siblings prove themselves the emotional core of the film.
From start to finish, The Last Jedi is a true feast for the eyes, making for quite possibly the most gorgeous installment in the entire Star Wars franchise. Each shot of the 150-minute epic is absolutely stunning, almost distracting from a slow-burning first act and a less-than-interesting middle that takes place on a separate planet where indulgences and the 1% rule, but sadly, not quite successful in backing up such visual mastery with much substance. Too often, surprises seem to come simply for the sake of it, ultimately amounting to… not very much. Don’t be fooled – for a refreshing and truly Johnson take on an old, familiar vehicle, The Last Jedi is still a formulaic and predictable Star Wars film, all despite his valiant attempts at surprise and newly infused sense of deadpan humor along the way. And maybe that’s just fine.
As an Asian woman, it was a particularly exciting and emotional experience to see such strong representation of POC and female characters, especially when no sense of “otherness” is ever forged upon Rose. Like her peers, she is absolutely a hero in her own right, with Tran successfully holding her own next to more “veteran” characters. One can only hope that an establishment of such a character will not be taken for granted in future installments to come, but in the meantime, I’ll hold my breath, cross my fingers, and let the future of the franchise speak for itself.
All in all, The Last Jedi seems like a massive step in the right direction. Though it occasionally feels overwhelming, packed with so much information that can be difficult to keep up with, Johnson was clearly the person for the job, pushing the franchise in uncharted territory that should be exciting to explore in films to come. It may not be the best Star Wars film, but it is absolutely no small feat – it is without a doubt the most visually stunning of the bunch, and finally, it is where the women truly take the lead. The future of the force looks bright with this one.