“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had a tough task at hand. Fans were burned after the much-maligned prequel series, all “Star Wars” had going for itself was name-recognition and the current demographic of movie-goers was skewing to the more youthful; which had little to no idea about the legacy of the series. But director J.J. Abrams and writer and series-staple Lawrence Kasdan knocked it out of the park not just in terms of spell-binding storytelling but also in terms of creating characters that could hold their own against the mammoth-like legacy of the Skywalkers as well as Han Solo. Viewers around the world responded enthusiastically and “The Force Awakens” is now the third-highest grossing movie ever.
All that being said, “The Last Jedi” comes with a lot of baggage. Not only does it have the burden of being the middle chapter in a trilogy but also it has to carry on the story as well as the characters forward in a faithful manner. Its director, Rian Johnson is known as a master storyteller but he has only directed small-scale indie movies. So, does it deliver? Let’s find out!
“The Force Awakens” heavily borrowed from the original trilogy, particularly from “A New Hope” and “The Last Jedi” continues the trend with call-backs to “The Empire Strikes Back” – both for story structure as well as nostalgia – as the latter is inarguably the best “Star Wars” movie, ever. However, Johnson – who also wrote the movie himself – doesn’t make the movie easy to understand. It’s not a run-of-the-mill blockbuster. It pushes the viewer to think and contemplate about the actions of the characters. It disposes of certain characters in such an unexpected manner and sets the final chapter so effortlessly, it seems like a piece of cake but is really not.
There are three separate story-lines running in the movie. Rey is off to the island of Ahch-To to convince Luke Skywalker to join the fight against The First Order; The Resistance is making one last stand against The First Order by abandoning their main base and trying to fend off attacks from a First Order fleet; and Finn – assisted by a mechanic named Rose – is trying to disable the tracking device that the First Order fleet is using to chase down The Resistance.
Of the three, the least effective happens to be the one with Finn and Rose as their plan to recruit a master codebreaker (read hacker) on a casino planet called Canto Bight is all good and fine but its execution is downright sloppy. They instead end up recruiting a guy called DJ, who ends up stealing a ship and taking them to the heart of the First Order fleet. It’s jarring and makes no sense for them to do what they do, to make the decisions they make with DJ appearing as nothing more than a distraction from the main plot-line. Unfortunately, the whole arc given to Finn and Rose appears forced because if one were to simply take it out of the movie, it will not be missed. That’s always bad from a story-telling level.
Where the movie does shine is in the moments spent on Ahch-To with Luke deciding to train Rey in the ways of the Jedi. Of all the characters in the “Star Wars” lore, Rey is arguably the most complete as well as complex. Her journey from the wasteland of Jakku, to fighting alongside The Resistance, to finally realizing how she is one with the Force, is an arc that can be understood and appreciated as a whole. She not only wants to convince Luke to join up with The Resistance to fight, but also wants to learn her place in the middle of a war for the galaxy itself. Luke, dejected by the betrayal of Kylo Ren, dismisses her request initially but gets around just enough to help her take a peek within herself.
Kylo Ren is finally placed as the big bad of the new trilogy in ways that are eerily similar to that of his grandfather Darth Vader. The motivation behind his actions is simple – create a new world order by annihilating every other. That’s the length and breadth of it. What makes it different is his quest to convince Rey – who he knows is stronger with the Force than him – to join up, stand alongside him and establish a new Order that is beyond petty races for domination.
The emotional core of the movie lies in the struggle between Rey and Kylo with her resolve to stand with The Resistance colliding with his desire for a greater purpose. It’s good vs evil at its most simple but in a manner that’s now typical to him, Rian Johnson is not content with spelling it out in an easy way. He builds up the confrontation between Rey and Kylo using the one thing that binds them – the Force itself – in a manner the exploration of which will invite spoilers but is nevertheless a clever way to showcase how powerful both of them are. Their confrontation towards the end is a delight to watch and the fleeting prospect of a union induces glee.
The performances are much more nuanced than they were in “The Force Awakens” with Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill as clearly standing out. Adam Driver could’ve lent much more gravitas to an improved role but he falters, striking a single note that is unfortunately reminiscent of Hayden Christensen. Carrie Fisher is terribly missed every time she appears on screen and she gets a grand farewell as General Leia. Benicio del Toro and Gwendoline Christie are terribly wasted in their roles. Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega do well despite an arc that’s plagued by question of necessity of its existence. The cinematography by Steve Yedlin and the score by the iconic John Williams lift the proceedings to new heights.
One just wishes that the movie was crisply edited as it does feel a bit of a stretch in the last two acts.
All said and done, the movie is a right step in the continuing saga of “Star Wars” and one hopes that J.J. Abrams – with his last chapter – will be able to honour characters both new and old the way Rian Johnson does.
Our Rating: 4/5
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