By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
In 2015, the Skywalker saga continued with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” reuniting fans with some of the most beloved movie characters ever to grace the big screen as well as a new generation of galactic heroes and villains. The film ended—quite literally—on a cliffhanger, with the mysterious Jakku scavenger, Rey (played by the adorable Daisy Ridley), tracking down missing Jedi Luke Skywalker (once again played by Mark Hamill) on an island, her arm outstretched with his old lightsaber in hopes of getting him to train her in the ways of the Force and help out the Resistance. Audiences were left wondering what Luke would do for the past two years and now, with writer/director Rian Johnson’s (“Looper”) ominously titled “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” fans are anxious to find out if the wait was worth it.
Simply put, the answer is yes.
Highly publicized as the longest “Star Wars” movie to date, “The Last Jedi” travels—for the most part—at lightspeed, despite clocking in at over two and a half hours. Like “The Force Awakens” before it, the film’s primary focus is on the next generation of “Star Wars” characters, which is a good thing since they’re all so interesting, charismatic and—in lovable droid BB-8’s case—so darn cute.
Fans reunite with Rey, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and a conflicted Luke on the island, while Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), a newly conscious Finn (John Boyega), C-3P0, BB-8 and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) are trying to keep the Resistance from being tracked down and killed by the First Order. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is weak—more mentally than physically—after being degraded by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) for letting a girl untrained in the Force almost kill him, so General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) has stepped up to the plate in hopes of being the new big baddie under Snoke’s supervision. And Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is…well, somewhere.
Along the way, new characters are introduced in the Resistance’s quest to escape the First Order’s watchful eye, dazzling worlds are seen for the first time, secrets from Luke’s past are uncovered—or at least one of them—and Rey and Kylo find themselves connected mysteriously, with each character trying to get the other to join them on their respective side of the fight. It all leads up to one spectacular fight sequence toward the end of the second act that shifts the future of the franchise in a slightly different direction than one might have thought and an ending that will leave viewers wondering how the writers are going to wrap things up in Episode IX with Fisher’s sudden death.
The above plot summary is vague for obvious reasons, as one of the only downfalls of “The Last Jedi” is that fans can’t experience its many plot twists and shocking showdowns more than once. Avoid spoilers at all costs, as the film will be so much more entertaining if viewers let Johnson’s story unfold as it happens instead of knowing what comes next.
While there are some similarities to Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Last Jedi” never feels like a rehash of the classic “Star Wars” movie. Part of that is due to the performances of its lead actors, who each craft their own unique character to root for or cheer against. Ridley and Driver, in particular, are great as Rey and Kylo, keeping audiences guessing as to whether their loyalties lie with the light or dark side of the Force.
“Star Wars” newcomer Kelly Marie Tran also delivers a memorable performance as Rose, a maintenance worker for the Resistance, while fellow cast additions Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro do what they can to leave a lasting impression with the limited amount of screen time given. Sadly, the much-publicized evil droid BB-9E is barely given any screen time to shine. Fans can only hope for a BB-8/BB-9E showdown in Episode IX.
Not surprisingly since audiences thought he was dead for most of “The Force Awakens,” Isaac gets a lot more screen time in “The Last Jedi” as headstrong Resistance pilot Poe and once again provides some unexpected comic relief at the start of the film. Carrie Fisher’s real-life daughter, Billie Lourd, also gets a bigger part to play in “The Last Jedi” as Lieutenant Connix, which seems fitting even though the decision to give her character more to do was clearly made long before Fisher’s death.
As for those Porgs, they look way more CGI on the big screen than they do in commercials, as does Supreme Leader Snook when he stands up. Still, the Porgs are pretty cute—and they have a great scene with Chewie on the island that’s sure to draw some laughs.
While “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is practically one big cat-and-mouse game with the First Order hot on the Resistance’s trail, the film packs in plenty of heart, humor and suspense in between all of the action sequences. Easily one of the strongest “Star Wars” films to date, a complaint viewers may have when leaving the theater is the same they had after watching “The Force Awakens”—that they have to wait another two years to find out what happens next.