For longtime hardcore Star Wars fans, Episode VII – The Force Awakens was too safe. Director/co-writer JJ Abrams essentially just remade Star Wars with new characters while still dismissing the hard-earned happy ending of the beloved original trilogy.
With The Last Jedi the series goes in another direction that is likely to annoy longtime fans.
Director/Writer Rian Johnson, the mastermind behind the fantastic sci-fi time bender Looper, takes a drastically different approach than Abrams who would have just tried his take on Empire Strikes Back.
Some elements like the Resistance on the run from the First Order mirroring the Rebels’ desperate escape from the Empire or Rey venturing off to learn the ways of the Force a la Luke Skywalker’s training with Yoda are obvious. For devoted Star Wars fans, the parallels are hard to miss.
But Johnson expands Last Jedi well beyond repeating what’s come before. This film lets Rey, Finn and Poe have their own unique adventure, which is a far superior way to honor the spirit of the Original Trilogy even if it doesn’t work all that well.
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Picking up almost from the end of Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) tries to get Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to join the Resistance to take down the First Order while Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) wants his apprentice Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to hunt down Skywalker.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher) try to avoid General Hux’s (Domnhall Gleeson) pursuit and Finn (John Boyega) and engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a risky secret mission.
The subplots fail to connect. Finn and Rose’s adventure gives two minority characters a spotlight, but their spotlight ultimately doesn’t mean anything besides giving Finn a “consolation prize” romantic backup since Johnson leans in on making Kylo Ren and Rey’s connection more of Force flirting than adversarial.
Poe’s subplot is also silly as he leads a mutiny that wasn’t necessary if the Resistance wasn’t so resistant to communicating with its key officers.
Easily the most divisive subplot is the one centering around Luke. Since we last saw the Original Trilogy’s main hero, he’s exiled himself as a failure after the horrific tragedy involving his nephew. Johnson tries to go the never meet your heroes route, but Luke’s entire journey through Star Wars through Return of the Jedi seems sacrificed for the sake of making him a hermit loser. It’s a baffling choice and one that lacks any sort of consistency with the main hero of the Original Trilogy.
That’s the heart of my issue with the film and the Sequel Trilogy so far. Rey, Finn and Poe could have had glorious, dangerous adventures on their own without tearing down Luke, Leia and Han’s accomplishments in the process. Was it really necessary to just have a bargain basement Empire casually build up while the Original Trilogy Big 3 did nothing? Couldn’t they have just been too old to save the galaxy and needed to turn to the next generation?
Abrams and Johnson both double down on this notion that audiences couldn’t find enough love in their hearts for Rey, Finn and Poe and had to trash Luke, Leia and Han to build the Sequel Trilogy characters up.
Rather than dragging out some of the bigger mysteries introduced in Force Awakens, everything addressed in a way that suggests Abrams and Johnson weren’t on the same page here.
Johnson provides a better showcase for Driver in particular as he gets to do more than play Emo Darth Vader. Ridley also has some nice moments working alongside Hamill, who valiantly tries to make the most of the material he’s given.
Looper was enough indication, but Johnson seemed very well-equipped to handle a massive blockbuster production. The action sequences are spectacular. Nine films into the Star Wars saga it’s hard to establish new iconic sequences and Johnson wisely doesn’t try to reinvent Star Wars action. It does feel underwhelming that no one has been able to top the lightsaber duels in the prequels.
As expected, it was somewhat emotional knowing this was Fisher’s final time appearing as Leia, but this was as good as could be expected given her unexpected death.
Series newcomers Benecio del Toro and Laura Dern don’t get enough to do with their characters, who prove frustrating from their lack of genuine impact on the main story.
Johnson’s lack of affection for Luke is revealed again with the final act that deprives fans of delivering the kind of iconic moment they’ve been waiting on for decades. It’s a bad fake out and the most disappointing in a series of bad decisions in Last Jedi.
The Last Jedi takes a bold swing at doing something different with the franchise, but it tears down too much instead of building a better future for the series.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures