From the sudden, blaring appearance of the Star Wars logo onscreen, you're hooked. You anxiously read the sunny-colored text crawl and prepare to continue a journey you started a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (either with the original trilogy, the prequels trilogy, or the most recent installment two years ago). We find ourselves floating in the stars as we predictably pan down to a set of spaceships, waiting for the conflict to begin. This is the undeniable allure the Star Wars universe holds for us, but what are the odds that a franchise that essentially recreated its first film would deserve our continued attention? The odds are astronomically in favor of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. (Also, never tell me the odds!)
The Star Wars universe gets fresh blood in the form of writer-director Rian Johnson. He is no stranger to science fiction, having done the time-traveling Looper, which is as beautifully shot as it is entertaining. He also has experience with intense dramas, like his engaging neo-noir film Brick, and especially directing episodes of Breaking Bad. Even his quirky film The Brothers Bloom serve to highlight his visual style and ability to deliver light-hearted comedy when needed. His entire filmography is an exploration of his skill set, all of which he brings to The Last Jedi, and the universe is made all the better for it, especially when he hybridizes the best elements of The Force Awakens and Rogue One.
Just as the Light and Dark sides of the Force must exist in a state of balance, so too does this film's pacing match that sentiment. The Last Jedi is an intermittently exhilarating journey that isn't without its overuse of tedious aerial shots to establish where we are since the story jumps between several character-based plot points. The film gallops in like a bloated tauntaun at more than two and a half hours, proving to be most necessary despite the stink of protraction in it. You only notice these smalls pieces of stagnation in between the meaty moments, but because they happen so often, they create a disturbance in the Force of the film. By the end, there is no more need to ponder "Who shot first?" because, after that merciless runtime, the answer will always be "Your bladder."
The film has a lot to offer, so its length shouldn't be a deal-breaker, but instead a warning of what to expect. One of the ways the film compensates for its runtime is by throwing in humor to keep the tone light-hearted whenever the story's subject matter allows. Enter the porgs, a flying species that looks like a cross between a hamster and a bird, but much more delicious than either. Creatures created to increase toy sales aside, within the first minute of The Last Jedi, you will already be heartily laughing. From that point, prepare for a series of jokes, one-liners, and gags, each slamming into your funny bone with its observational humor and complete subversion of a should-be serious moment. This is the same type of humor we saw in the The Force Awakens except it was awakened in this film twofold. All the jokes land near-flawlessly with the exception of an overused one of the avian variety that all but crashes and burns when its revisited for the umpteenth time during the film's climax.
At this point, we know that the galaxy is an expansive place full of a variety of different lifeforms, only a fraction of which we've encountered on screen. This episode continues to explore this galaxy far, far away, but at a great cost to some of the characters and story arcs. Aside from our trio of heroes (or A New Hope-esque replacements), development continues for characters like Kylo Ren and Leia Organa. Then we're introduced to a handful more characters that important to various storylines in the film. That's quite of bit of exposition needed with the core cast alone, so characters like DJ and Rose Tico feel almost skeletal in their development, but with potential for future exploration in either a prequel or sequel form.
One of the new faces in this film easily becomes one of the most badass, and her name is Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (played marvelously by Laura Dern). What the character lacks in a backstory, she more than makes up for in everything else. Holdo has a young Leia, original trilogy feel to her and I'm living for it. These are the types of characters that make the Star Wars universe such an exciting place to explore, so much so that I hope we get a spin-off film showing her rise through the ranks. On the topic of badass females, this will be the last time we see Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa. There are several scenes made all the sadder knowing that, especially since she was being built up to play a much bigger role in the sequel trilogy's machinations. This helped make the already tender moments in the film pack a much more emotional punch, so bring tissues. The best thing Rian Johnson did for her character was leaving her unaltered when they could have easily reshot scenes and given her some cheap, on-screen finality. Stay through the credits for the dedication: "In Loving Memory of our Princess: Carrie Fisher."
Ultimately, there is a price for everything, and even with the longer than usual runtime, several key characters from the last film (Maz, Captain Phasma, etc.) get close to zero further character development. Maz was basically established as the new Yoda in The Force Awakens, and Phasma is set up to be Finn's nemesis, but with the almost minuscule screen time characters like these got, it was impossible to explore them or their motivations aside from the surface-level details we got the last film. Yes, there is one more film left in this trilogy, but unless it's at least four hours long, I doubt we'll get satisfaction.
As The Last Jedi trailer reveals, Kylo Ren's quote is the main theme of the film. In case you have forgotten, it goes a little something like this:
"Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. It's the only way to become what you were meant to be."
My biggest concern going into the film was that it was going to be a rehashing of The Empire Strikes Back, the way The Force Awakens was for A New Hope. While this sort of fan-service is fun, it's also ultimately empty and shows at its core a lack of creativity. I'm happy to report that the film is a trap. There are many elements (and even a surprise character or two that will have you freaking out when they show up) that are revisited and parallel the development of The Empire Strikes Back, but that's exactly the lure that this film is using to reel you in. It visits these themes and paralleling story arcs, but ultimately keeps true to Kylo Ren's mantra and doesn't completely go through the pitfalls of the past. This film goes its own way, and even though it does have many shortcomings, it is still the most satisfying Star Wars film that has ever been released.