The Galaxy Far, Far Away Continues to Excite
“The Last Jedi” has been met with such resounding success thanks to its wider-reaching emotional depth and modern viewpoints.
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Chewbacca dies! Just kidding. Taking place immediately after “The Force Awakens” (2015), “The Last Jedi” is the latest film in the new Star Wars trilogy. Its huge success comes with being the most feminist Star Wars movie to date, while addressing key social themes like maturity and gender roles. “The Last Jedi” does miss a few chances for better character development, but it remains enjoyable for old and new fans alike.
Being a long-time fan of the franchise himself, director Rian Johnson’s approach to the movie draws much from the previous Star Wars films, with the large-scale space dogfights and lightsaber duels that have made Star Wars so iconic and instantly recognizable. The film opens up featuring the last of a torn Resistance, led by a war-wary General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), who reprises her role in the grand finale through a heavy-hitting performance.
Between documenting the Resistance’s attempts to escape impending First Order wrath, Johnson takes plenty of time to further explore the relationship between Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Rey (Daisy Ridley), and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Viewers get to watch as Rey tries to convince Luke to train her while we learn about the final downfall of the Jedi. Rey’s determination in trying to persuade Luke and her lack of hesitation when she has the chance to help Kylo become good again add to Rey’s personality. She also sets the distinction between Kylo Ren and Ben Solo, with Kylo being a demonous conduit for the Dark Side that kills mercilessly and Ben being the son of Han and Leia, who lost his way because no one seemed to care about him and his achievements as a young adult. Luke is also forced to finally address his role in Ben Solo’s younger life. Through this, we learn that even a Jedi Master like Luke is not unsusceptible to emotions that control how we act, often wrongly.
This display of emotion is present in many other key characters on screen. Men being emotionally vulnerable is no stranger to the Star Wars universe; It was first seen in Anakin Skywalker and is now seen in almost all the male main characters in the new trilogy. However, Star Wars is also now turning its attention to strengthening female characters. General Organa has more of a speaking role and remains feisty and composed despite personal loss. Rey chooses to see the good in others and rarely gives up unless she has to. The First Order’s Captain Phasma is a symbol of power and discipline in her shining anti-blaster armor. It’s so important that such a far-reaching franchise continues addressing gender roles, when most films overlook female and male empowerment.
Tied into this is Johnson’s biggest message in “The Last Jedi,” stated blatantly by Ben when he makes a plea for Rey to join him: “Just let go.” It’s seen plaintively throughout the film, when Luke tries letting go of his Jedi origins because of shame of having failed to keep Ben from the Dark Side. Rey has to let go of her obsession with who her parents are so that it doesn’t affect her behavior and bring her more pain. Finn’s exchange with his former First Order mentor is his final goodbye to the Empire’s teachings. In contrast, various other characters experience a plethora of negative emotions because they can’t let go of shame or regretful actions.
But being the longest Star Wars film to date, it could have easily shed a half hour or used it to explain other issues. Johnson spends too long delving into older Star Wars lore, which Luke seems to brood over constantly and discusses sparingly with Rey. And while Kylo Ren becomes a very complex villain, Captain Phasma, an already powerful non-Force user, has as much of a role as she did in the previous film, which isn’t much. I would also have loved to see more of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), the newest addition to the cast. Rose already displayed her pragmatism, observational ability, and quick wit, but her unlikely rise to heroism would have been all the more engaging with more character development.
However, not all of the two and a half hours is confusing or negative. Besides recreating the incredibly iconic Star Wars opening theme, film composer John Williams’ music is heard throughout. Unlike earlier episodes, his compositions are heard more frequently and closely reflect what is happening in the movie, like when the brass and percussion start weaving between the higher and lower octaves whenever the power of the Dark Side is on full display. Williams’s film score also does well to arouse the audience’s adrenaline whenever another exciting battle ensues, while being equally able to leave viewers troubled when characters experience loss or pain.
Viewers are also given the chance to examine characters more intimately with close-ups and medium shots that catch slight changes in facial expression. In scenes like Rey and Ben’s confrontation with the Supreme Leader, the camera captures Rey’s intense fear and sudden doubt in Ben’s goodness. Though his face barely changes, we can see the inner struggle between Ben and Kylo before he reaches a decision.
We also can’t help but enjoy the qualities of a modern “space Western” as Star Wars has been so affectionately deemed. Having blurred the lines between distinctly good and evil, a final Star Wars feel is returned in a classic Light Side versus Dark Side standoff. The First Order’s vast array of firepower is on full display, while the ever-vigilant Resistance retains its never-ending hope in the face of doom. And then Luke Skywalker comes.
“The Last Jedi” has been met with great success and it’s not a wonder why. Director Rian Johnson has been able to create a film wholly original while keeping the classicality of Star Wars. Even with the introduction of so many new characters and ideas, the film isn’t rushed and continues to tell a beautifully woven story that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.