Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was a brilliant success in many ways. Director JJ Abrams very successfully returned audiences to the galaxy far, far away, keeping up all of the franchise’s most adored quirks and traditions. We got an exciting lightsaber fight, we got cheesy dialogue and favorite catch-phrases, and just getting to hear John Williams’ music again is something truly special. In just about every way, though, The Force Awakens was more a remake than a sequel. Sure, there were some new characters and the story is continued, but there were very few original ideas. It was perfect as a reintroduction into the Star Wars universe, but rather disappointing to watch beyond the initial viewing. Thankfully, Episode VIII changes all of that, thanks to Rian Johnson.
Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi picks up right where The Force Awakens left off. Rey and Chewbacca have found Luke Skywalker, and after some convincing, Luke agrees to train Rey as a Jedi. Meanwhile, the Resistance is fleeing through space with the First Order right on their tail, with Leia, Poe, and the new Vice Admiral Holdo doing what they can to save the last of the Resistance. Worried about the First Order and about Rey, Finn teams up with a maintenance worker, Rose, as they go on a mission to find someone to help. Kylo Ren still struggles in an internal battle between dark and light, and being watched closely by the eye of the evil Snoke, Kylo must decide which side to choose. As the Resistance is being picked off by the First Order, all our heroes do what they can to save the Resistance and stop Kylo Ren and Snoke.
Rian Johnson serves as both director and the sole writer of The Last Jedi. The Force Awakens, careful to remain consistent with the nature of the franchise, hired three writers, resulting in the remake that was The Force Awakens. With Johnson as the singular, primary voice of this film, Johnson boldly took some liberties with the story that every fan would have disagreed with on paper. In fact, when Mark Hamill first read Johnson’s screenplay, he told Johnson he disagreed with every Johnson had done with his character, before agreeing to trust his director entirely. Hamill made a risky, but wise decision to trust Johnson, because the payoff couldn’t have been better. While the best thing about The Force Awakens was that it was just like the original Star Wars trilogy, the best thing about The Last Jedi is that it’s nothing like any Star Wars movie we’ve seen before. If The Last Jedi says anything, it shouts, “Hey! I’m not a remake.” And what it is instead is a really stinkin’ good movie.
I won’t be able to go into too much detail about how Rian Johnson’s Star Wars movie is unlike the rest, because the majority of the differences are centered around the plot, and therefore I would spoil the movie. What I can say, though, is that the liberties that Johnson takes are ridiculously bold, they change the shape of this ongoing trilogy, and they make for one super engaging film. From the very start of the movie, you’re seeing things you’ve never seen before in a Star Wars movie, because they’re completely original ideas from Rian Johnson. Only time will tell whether Johnson’s changes will be a progressive piece of the franchise, or a major hiccup that they try to cover up in Episode IX. Nevertheless, I can’t ignore the fact that I was incredibly entertained during every single minute of this long movie.
Where Johnson took liberties with plot, he also took when directing the movie. The Last Jedi definitely still looks like a Star Wars film, but at the same time Rian Johnson’s Star Wars movie doesn’t look like any of the other seven (or eight) that we’ve seen. Visually and atmospherically, Johnson’s Star Wars is much more mystical, using the magical aspect of the Force as the blood that runs through every vein of his movie. Star Wars has always been a combination of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but with Johnson in charge, Fantasy is the primary genre. This is true in the story, but also with how Johnson approached the movie in every way. There is a certain thoughtfulness which Johnson used in creating each scene, utilizing craft cinematography and a certain nuance which no other Star Wars film possesses. There’s one scene in particular which utilizes brilliant graphics, editing, and sound work that I’m not going to forget for a long time.
As a franchise film, The Last Jedi could be brilliant, or it could be terrible. What Johnson has done with this installment could change the shape of the franchise for the better, or this could end up being the oddball film that was a little too bold. It’s up to you and time to decide. The Last Jedi requires you to watch in a way that you don’t for any other Star Wars movie, and the result is a really good film. But since it carries the responsibility of being part of a franchise, this kind of good film may or may not be what we want in the long run. For me, though, watching The Last Jedi is probably the most entertained I’ve been while watching a Star Wars movie.
I give Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi an 8.4/10.