Looper writer/director Rian Johnson found himself with the same problem that Irvin Kirshner had in the late 70’s.
Kirshner wasn’t George Lucas.
Now, Johnson had been hired to write Star Wars Episode 8, following up J.J. Abrams hugely successful, Episode 7, The Force Awakens. And Abrams isn’t exactly George Lucas. But Abrams has made a career out of successfully replicating director nostalgia. His c/v speaks for himself on that with Star Trek, Super 8. And Episode 7, The Force Awakens is absolutely no different. And that’s a fact that has drawn ire and criticism from every end of this planet.
“The Force Awakens is just a rehash of Episode 4” (it’s not), “I wanted something new, not Episode 4!” (you got what you wanted). When you ignore the keyboard warriors and the ignorant screaming that Lucasfilm had no imagination and sat down to actually watch The Force Awakens, you realized that it HAD to be Star Wars. It had to replicate the magic not only for the fans of the original film but also for the audience who (for some strange reason) have never seen a Star Wars movie.
The Force Awakens had to be Star Wars so that Rian Johnson could do with The Last Jedi what Kirshner did with The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Subvert the themes of the story and set it on a completely different set of tracks. And The Last Jedi did this beautifully by expanding on the original story and characters while nodding with tasteful callbacks of nostalgia in Empire Strikes Back and even Return of the Jedi. All to create a movie that can truly be called the beginning and the end.
The Last Jedi begins exactly where The Force Awakens ends with Rey giving Luke Skywalker his lightsaber back. And we’re immediately met with a Luke Skywalker we’ve never met before. Rian Johnson’s decision to give us a Skywalker that has been affected by the events at his academy that created this new trilogy has drawn an incredible about of divided opinions. These are fans saying that Jedi aren’t hopeless, they are not angry, they’re not scared. Coming from this 30 + year fan, Mark Hamill shouldn’t be playing Alec Guinness. It’s not right for the character of Luke Skywalker as much as it’s just… not right.
And Hamill himself agrees. You see this in his performance as Luke embraces and gives us a substance in Luke that is absolutely as engaging as he was when we first met him. Still every bit able to carry the weight of the force on his shoulders, Hamill leads this story to an incredibly satisfying ending for this story. Even at his age, Hamill is every bit as capable physically as his younger co-stars and is always a presence on the screen.
Despite being relatively new to acting, Daisy Ridley proves that she will be a force (pun intended) to reckon with in her career as she balances Rey’s internal struggle with trying to understand herself against the presence of Mark Hamill and Adam Driver. There’s an honest in her performance that is easily engaging and just as powerful as the intensity in Adam Driver’s performance as Kylo Ren. Johnson gives Ridley a lot of action as much as he does acting and she proves that she is every bit as capable of stepping into the footprints that Carrie Fisher has made.
Possibly my favorite performance in this film belongs to John Boyega’s continuing evolution for the former stormtrooper, Finn. The innocence Finn expresses as he experiences the world and the evil in it feels very much like Luke Skywalker joining Obi-Wan to leave Tatooine behind him. And Johnson builds on this beautifully with both Boyega and Finn’s enthusiasm for action in this world. Culminating in the incredible fight you get a glimpse off in the trailer against Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma.
Similar to Adam Driver, Oscar Issac builds on his legacy of being one of this generations best character actors as hotshot fighter pilot, Poe Dameron, is taken under the wing of Leia. In many surprisingly quiet moments that carry as much weight and force as a swinging lightsaber. Driver’s Kylo Ren is never going to be Darth Vader and Driver is not trying to be him either. Truly cementing why he’s a sought-after character actor with a surprisingly nuanced performance that mirrors Luke and through his physicality. Adam Driver is jacked and proves all his critics wrong that he is a legitimate threat to these characters.
And the way Rian Johnson handles his action as oppose to J.J. Abrams is through that extremely strong and patient character work. As he deconstructs these characters, he uses action to rebuild them. Much like that aforementioned fight between Finn and Captain Phasma. It’s because I’m so engaged with these characters in The Last Jedi, it makes the action they take to be so much more. Again, calling on those Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi callbacks to create in his action an ending that not only closes some long open doors but opens some new ones. For the first time since The Force Awakens, we don’t know what will happen in Episode 9, the closing chapter of this new trilogy.
But the one thing we do know, Carrie Fisher won’t be there. And her role, while not finished still makes for a great ending for her in a sense. In a role that finds herself taken away from the front lines where Leia preferred to be in the original trilogy to mentoring the new generation of this ongoing saga, I feel like Carrie Fisher would be happy with that. Carrie Fisher was never one to mince words about how she felt about Leia or her iconic status and wouldn’t have given “two shits” about going out on a high note in Star Wars. Leaving out the door in a quiet and dignified manner while flipping us all off, that’s a much more fitting exit for Carrie Fisher.
I’ve got nothing for you if you’re looking for me to say anything negative. Anything I could say feels like nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking and not a valid criticism.
The Last Jedi will never reach the iconic level of The Empire Strikes Back. But it’s not trying to do that. What Rian Johnson is trying to do with The Last Jedi is continue a saga that started back in 1977. And The Last Jedi is every bit worthy of being a part of that saga and well worth 5 out of 5 stars.
As of the writing of this review, J.J. Abrams was working on his pitch to Disney and Luscasfilm for Episode 9. Going into the final episode not knowing anything is can come with a fair bit of trepidation. But by the time I had come out of the theatre after seeing The Last Jedi and hit the street, any and all anxiety I had was gone. Because after The Last Jedi, I know the force is with us.