The great ‘Star Wars’ saga last ended on a dark note at the end of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ with scrappy rebel fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) having finally found the semi-mythic Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in his remote island hideaway. The Rebel Alliance was in a shambles and the Empire was clearly on the ascendancy with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) as heir apparent to its new incarnation, The First Order.
In the latest chapter, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ the story picks up right from the moment that Rey encounters Skywalker, and unfolds in a number of parallel storylines that have renegade stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and new character Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) searching the galaxy for someone to help them defeat the Empire’s dreadnaught, while headstrong rebel fighter Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) butts heads with the Rebel leadership over strategy and the Rebels try to hold on long enough to establish a new base of operations somewhere in the galaxy. Rey, meanwhile, tries to convince Luke to train her in the ways of The Force so she can become a Jedi. If there’s enough time…
The ‘Star Wars’ mythos is so strong in our culture that it’s almost impossible to write about this sprawling 2 1/2 hour long addition to the saga without spoilers, but yes, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is a central character throughout the film, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) shows up rather as a minor character, and even the Millennium Falcon appears in the film, as do all the other elements we’ve all grown to love. X Wing and TIE Fighters! Stormtroopers! The Force and its yin/yang companion The Dark Side and evil people who manipulate it to their own ends!
Still, all great drama is about individuals, not just the sweeping tide of groups, and ‘The Last Jedi’ finds a terrific balance between the great saga and the story of individuals like Rose and her growing affection towards the sporadically modest hero Poe, even while there’s something abrew between Rey and Finn. These help add some warmth and occasional levity in an otherwise heavy melodrama, though ‘The Last Jedi’ has precious little humor within and more than once veers towards social commentary and a very modern theme of rich versus poor and the plight of the downtrodden.
The production itself is splendid, as we have come to expect from the limitless budget of the Star Wars series. Planets are exotic, creatures are wondrous (and if you’re worried, don’t be, the Porg are cute but not annoying like Ewoks or <sigh> Jar-Jar!), the ships are scroungy but functional, and there’s a sense of awe throughout. Supreme Leader Snoke’s chamber in particular is a technicolor fantasy that’s a clear homage to the original movies and their oversaturated color palettes. It’s a weird but fantastical space that adds considerable drama to the scenes set there and deserves great kudos.
There is, however, less planet hopping than in previous films – including ‘The Force Awakens,’ which at times felt more like a chapter from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – and the one exotic planet we visit turns out to be a bit of a letdown compared to the extraordinarily realized dream-like alien worlds of the recent ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.’ Indeed, most of the action takes place on spaceships, which leads me to keep wondering why ‘Star Wars’ vessels are still trapped in 1970s visions of the future? No voice activation, no autonomous fighter planes, not even computer-controlled targeting systems. It’s starting to seem more alternate universe future rather than our potential future, actually.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ turns out to be a splendid last chapter of much of the original ‘Star Wars’ mythology, wrapping up a number of storylines and reinventing things to open up new and exciting chapters yet to come. New characters, new weapons, new villains, all with the imaginative and dramatic staging and production that has always characterized the series since back in the 1970s when it started with ‘A New Hope.’
I really enjoyed ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi,’ both for its small stories of individuals and its sweeping drama of good versus evil. There’s plenty of action from the very first scene and there are also slower, more meditative scenes that dwell on the nature of good and the challenges each of us face as we wrestle with our own better selves and darker impulses. It’s a highly satisfying new chapter in this wonderful saga that might feel a bit long at 2 1/2 hours, but it’s all still time well spent. And do stay through the credits to catch an emotional eulogy to Star Wars mainstay Carrie Fisher, who passed away during production.