Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the ninth installment of what may be the most popular franchise in movie history, starts off with a bang and continues to carry that bang through the duration of the film.
Beginning with the ever-recognizable “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” into the opening scroll, the film captures the excitement and anticipation that have turned George Lucas’ creations into a billion dollar cash cow that spans far beyond the big screen.
The film begins with the ominous Star Destroyer ships that are the usual openings to the films, and the audience is reintroduced to one of the heroes of The Force Awakens, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), as he orchestrates a brave, if not stupid, attack on the Empire’s fleet in order to escape into hyperspace, but loses some key members of the Rebel Alliance along the way.
He is reprimanded by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) for not being tactful in the operation and is demoted from being a high-ranking officer to a regular member of the X-Wing crew. When Leia is injured in a subsequent strike, it leads to Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern) being in charge rather than Dameron, leading to a struggle of power within the Rebel force. Meanwhile, the former Stormtrooper-turned-Rebel Finn (John Boyega) is paired with Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a journey to find a codebreaker that may help get the Alliance back on track, as well as Finn’s desire to find Rey.
In Ach-To, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has unwittingly been tracked down by the relentless Rey (Daisy Ridley), along with Star Wars staple heroes Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droid R2-D2 aboard the recently demised the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s famous ship.
Upon finding Skywalker, the group sees a man that had every possible opportunity to fight against the Empire, but has abandoned his need to rise up and has accepted his fate as the last man who can carry the credo and presence of the Jedi order. When the group, most convincingly R2, let Skywalker know about the death of Han Solo, the Jedi master agrees to give Rey some lessons about how to master the Force. This part of the movie elicits the feel of a kung fu film, with a new, stubborn student attempting to overcome an innate rage and find what it truly means to become a Jedi. With Luke acknowledging a mistake of which he will never let go, it brings both he and Rey to a point that they both have to overcome their pasts.
Adam Driver reprises his role as Kylo Ren, and does a great job of bringing a shade of grey to the character that, in The Force Awakens, was more of a spoiled brat than the heir apparent to Darth Vader. He is under the beckon call of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who exemplifies the unshakable confidence of an omnipotent dictator. The commanding general of the Empire’s fleet, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), is a good fit for his part as a scared underling to the Empire’s most feared duo, much akin to General Tarkin (Peter Cushing) in A New Hope. All three of these characters tangibly make the audience understand why the Rebellion really is the only hope.
The film is action-packed, and virtually never stops from beginning to end. The space battles are extremely well done, with some great X-Wing/TIE Fighter battles of which George Lucas would have dreamed in 1977. The epic battle scenes utilizing some of the machines of old combined with some new creations are great. There are numerous lightsaber duels that will go down as some of the best in the franchise’s history, including one with Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker.
The female cast in the movie steals the show. In Carrie Fisher’s last performance, Leia continues to be a leader who always does what is best for the Rebel Alliance’s goal to overthrow the empire. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the perfect student to Hamill’s Skywalker, and her internal conflict of being the chosen one and her connection to Kylo Ren serve as a great storyline throughout. Laura Dern as Holdo is a very strong presence throughout the movie, and does a great job of being a foil to Isaac’s Dameron.
The Last Jedi is easily the best of the films made after the original trilogy. As a fan, there are so many callbacks and direct references to the originals (including appearances by Yoda, Maz Kanata, Admiral Ackbar, and Nien Nunb), and the story parallels most of the original themes that the original trilogy exemplified, with the new cast paying homage to the originals while paving their own bright future. Go see The Last Jedi in theaters, the Force is strong with this one.