SPOILER ALERT: I've waited a few weeks since watching The Last Jedi to publish this. However, I certainly acknowledge that there are those who enjoy Star Wars but just haven't been able to see the new film yet. If you are such a person, I assume you would rather not have the movie spoiled. So, this wordy preamble is your warning that such spoilers will be present in this review. As such, you should probably watch the movie before reading it if you don't want to see any spoilers.
Nostalgia is an interesting phenomenon. We hold so tightly to things that fascinated us and entertained us when we were young. They become parts of us in some small way. Few pieces of art bring about this fountain of nostalgia for me quite like Star Wars, so I understand the desire for these beloved characters and stories to continue.
But that really depends on what you mean by "continue."
For the Star Wars saga to move forward, the question of what happens after the Skywalker clan and, more broadly, the entire Jedi order must be addressed. That's hard for those of us who so dearly love the Star Wars saga as it has occurred to this point, because the Skywalker family has been the foundation for those stories. Their experience has been the lens through which we've seen this legendary story play out. The thing is - if we're honest with ourselves - that will have to change at some point.
In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) re-enters the storyline after having a brief appearance at the end of The Force Awakens. But first, we have to find out about some of the other characters.
The First Order has found the base of the Resistance and will seek to wipe them out once and for all. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads a retreat from the base at the film's outset. The First Order is led by Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) who oversees General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Much of the remainder of the film will be dedicated to the retreat of the Resistance fighters.
One of those fighters, in particular, has a very interesting story arc in the film.
Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is the one who leads the intial charge at the beginning of the movie. While it does afford the Resistance a chance at escape, it comes at the expense of many lives. Leia urges Poe to exercise more caution. Poe wants to make a difference, but to him that means constantly being in attack mode. Leia says that there are often other options.
Before I go any further, I must give credit to director Rian Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin. This might just be the most beautiful Star Wars film to date. Everyone involved in this production had massive pressure to live up to the enormous expectations. By my estimation, they passed with flying colors.
The concurrent plot involves Luke and our hero Rey (Daisy Ridley), who has gone to the remote island of Ahch-To to find the sought-after Jedi Master. The Resistance believes that Luke is the key to their survival, and Rey wants to find out for herself. We see a callback to the final scene of The Force Awakens where Rey hands Luke his old lightsaber. This film then continues the scene - but in a way that one might not expect.
It is that unexpected cadence and penchant for idiosyncrasy that I believe has incurred the wrath of so many Star Wars fans against Rian Johnson. But that is why I began this review with a discussion of nostalgia. What Johnson is doing is bringing a fresh story to this beloved saga. He is merging the old with the new, and he's doing it in a creative way. Maybe that is disingenuous to some. I found it to be quite envigorating.
I will not divulge the entire plot, as I have already given more spoilers than many might oblige. But let me call out a few new faces to the Star Wars cast that I felt were particularly good in their roles.
Laura Dern plays Vice Admiral Holdo, and she is fantastic. She is the foundation of one of my favorite scenes in the entire movie when she makes a decision involving hyperspeed that effects the entire Resistance.
There is also Kelly Marie Tran who steals many a scene as Rose Tico - one of the Resistance fighters. She and Finn (John Boyega) go on a mission together later in the film, and she is a major part of the final battle scene - which, since I mentioned it, is an absolutely gorgeous scene.
I said I wouldn't give any more spoilers, but as for the way the film ends, let me just say that Johnson takes the Star Wars world that we know and love and expands it. Again, some will say that he is ruining the saga that they have loved since childhood. I disagree. This entire film is about wrestling with the past and moving into the future. The Star Wars saga must do that, too, unless we just want to end the series now and never have another entrant in this legendary tale.
If The Force is truly this all-encompassing power that the preceding films have portrayed, then it stands to reason that it is beyond any one family or order - including the Jedi. I think this film considers that in a subversive way, and I believe it should be praised for that.
As far as criticisms go, I think the film suffers from the way it handles one of its villains. Kylo Ren is certainly compelling, and Adam Driver embodies the character wonderfully. I have no problems there. But Supreme Leader Snoke, in my opinion, is grossly mishandled. Unless there are peculiar plans ahead in upcoming films, it seems that he was built up in The Force Awakens for...well, not so much. We don't really know much about him or why he does what he does. I think the usage of his character hurts the film, but it is far from a fatal blow.
Overall, I found all of the direction, cinematography and acting to be superb. After watching this film, I am even more excited to see where this saga is going while still being able to appreciate the incredible heights of the past.
Isn't that kind of the point?
Note on content: There is some minor sexual content in the form of revealing outfits, a kiss between characters and a scene where one male character is shirtless. But there is no nudity or overt sexual content. The film contains some profanity, and it has a great deal of fantasy violence - similar to the other films. There is also one scene where Luke Skywalker milks an alien animal and drinks the milk. Not sure how to categorize that one but it is, shall we say, interesting. Overall, this film is rated PG-13 and should be appropriate for anyone who has enjoyed the previous films.