It’s been exactly 40 years since the original Star Wars introduced audiences to a galaxy far, far away, and Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia became household names. A lot has happened in that time; a Prequel Trilogy, a spin-off, not to mention a great deal more in the Expanded Universe. But now, with the franchise advancing like a runaway train, we get to the middle of the Sequel Trilogy with The Last Jedi.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), but he’s not the optimistic Jedi from his youth. Receiving training from an unwilling trainer is Rey’s biggest challenge in this movie. Meanwhile, General Leia (Carrie Fisher, in her final performance, R.I.P.), leads what remains of the Resistance to a potential safe haven, with the superior First Order in hot pursuit. But with both their forces and hope draining fast, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) hatch a daring plan that could cripple the First Order and give the Resistance the upper hand they desperately need.
The Force Awakens was criticized for being too similar to A New Hope, so it was inevitable that people might fear the sequel following suit. But is The Last Jedi just a modern version of The Empire Strikes Back? Not. Even. Close. It may borrow smaller elements from some previous entries, but it is very much its own movie. It has its own style, its own story structure, and most importantly, it carries the franchise further into uncharted territory than ever before. The story may not seem that big for its first half, but grows to epic proportions for its second half. There are also a great deal of characters to juggle, and not everyone gets equal screen time, including one or two characters we only got fleeting glimpses of in the last movie (not Luke, though; he talks and stuff this time). The younger characters — Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) — are the true stars of this Sequel Trilogy.
If Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was all about hope, then The Last Jedi is its thematic opposite. Hopelessness, and the fight against it, drives this movie from beginning to end. There were so many moments where it felt like everything could end, right here, right now, with everything everyone holds dear perpetually on thin ice that keeps getting thinner. Like a true storyteller, director Rian Johnson promises one thing, then throws your expectations to the wind and careens the story into unexpected places. And that is how you keep a highly-expectant audience engaged! It certainly won’t please everyone, especially with certain choices characters make, but it will feel like an important story nonetheless.
At 132 minutes, The Last Jedi is certainly the longest Star Wars movie yet, but with so much happening in its second half, you probably won’t even feel it. The story gets pretty dark, and not all of your questions from The Force Awakens will get answered (as aggravating as that sounds!). This is the middle entry of a trilogy, after all. There’s still one to go. And for this Star Wars fan, 2019 can’t get here fast enough!
4 out of 5