By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The Star Wars saga continues and this time, in the hands of talented writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper)  The acclaimed filmmaker takes the reigns of the beloved space opera franchise from J.J. Abrams (who helmed previous installment The Force Awakens) and launches the current story arc into exciting territories.  Johnson’s The Last Jedi goes deep into the spiritual and philosophical conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force and also tackles the personal struggles within the key members of the Resistance.  The resulting movie is an intense, thrilling, and emotional journey that ambitiously covers a tremendous amount of ground and is almost perfect.

Immediately after the destruction of Starkiller Base, the surviving members of the Resistance are on the run and in hot pursuit by the First Order.  Seemingly cornered everywhere they turn, Resistance leaders General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) and fighter pilot Commander Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) disagree on a strategy to evade the First Order Fleet.  Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) struggles to persuade disillusioned Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to rejoin his sister Leia to help battle Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).  As both Rey and the Resistance deal with their own dilemmas, time runs short and the threats of the Dark Side and First Order grow immensely.

Given that Rian Johnson went into making this film thinking this was his only shot at making an awesome Star Wars movie, it definitely shows that he put much thought and effort into making this movie count.  Johnson certainly tries to cover much thematic ground, develop his story and characters well, and make the whole experience powerful, thrilling, and at times, fun.  His movie does succeed in offering some truly amazing and magical cinematic moments.  There are several iconic Star Wars beats that call back some of the more memorable moments of the original trilogy, as well as some brand new ones that make this film more than just a fan tribute.  The trouble, however, is that it feels that Johnson tried to do a little too much in just one film.  There are some unnecessary scenes that could have been cut shorter or discarded completely.  A slightly more streamlined version of this movie would make it a perfect Star Wars film.

I can still respect and appreciate that Rian Johnson had loads of ideas for this movie and wanted to include most of them here.  The moments that do work well, are absolutely wonderful and will be long remembered by the saga’s fans.  The spiritual aspect of the film regarding the conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force probably goes deeper than any other Star Wars movie.  Johnson not only addresses the conflict between good and bad, but also the inner turmoil that sometimes haunts those with Force abilities.  This psychological element makes for even more compelling development of these characters.  It is a theme that has been mentioned in previously movies, but never examined as intimately.

Regarding the action set pieces, Johnson knows his stuff.  He and his crew have created some intense, adrenaline-fueled, edge-of-the-seat battles in  space and within planets and ships.  The film might be the prettiest looking Star Wars installment, as the detailed and meticulous use of colors makes an indelible impression, and Johnson’s favorite cinematographer Steve Yedlin has composed some of the most gorgeous looking shots.  John Williams returns as composer of the score and offers some of his finest Star Wars work since the prequel trilogy.

And given that the Johnson’s screenplay is loaded with cinematic gold, the superb cast has a wealth of material with which to work.  Daisy Ridley reprises her beloved role as Rey and takes to character to some incredible dramatic heights.  She has a wonderful chemistry with Adam Driver who also offers his best performance as Kylo Ren so far.  Mark Hamill makes his long awaited return to his most iconic role and delivers his best performance as the older Luke Skywalker, a nearly shattered and remorseful Jedi Master who is crippled by fear.  Audiences will also get to see better development of their favorite characters from the last movie and from the original trilogy.

The late Carrie Fisher gives an outstanding turn of General Leia Organa, the strong and intelligent leader of the Resistance who has only grown wiser through the years.  Laura Dern makes her Star Wars debut here and makes an undeniably positive impression.  Returning actors Andy Serkis, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Gwendoline Christie all perform well in their respective roles.  New Star Wars actors Kelly Marie Tran and Benicio Del Toro are no slouches either.

And obviously neither is Rian Johnson who has definitely given his first Star Wars movie his all.  The talented filmmaker has made a great Star Wars movie that is a almost as good as the movies of the original trilogy.  Part of me wishes that Johnson would return to finish off this new trilogy, but I do realize that one movie alone can be exhausting.   I would hate for this fatigue to impact the quality of his work.  Hopefully J.J. Abrams can bring something fresh and exciting to Episode IX, but The Last Jedi will be a tough act to follow.


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