Review: The force is strong with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

“The Last Jedi” made $60.8 million in just 48 hours.


Note: Minor spoilers will be found throughout.

Hype is a dangerous thing.

Granted, I’m not sure there could ever be more hype than what surrounded “The Force Awakens” in the months before it’s release in 2015, but now that we’re in full swing of the modern “Star Wars” renaissance, expectations have never been higher.

This same hype is one of the reasons I openly disliked last year’s “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” So, as I sat down in the sold-out theater Friday morning, I was nervous. Would “The Last Jedi” succumb to the anticipation and buckle under it’s own weight?

Simply put, it didn’t.

I’ll put it bluntly, “The Last Jedi” makes “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” look inconsequential by comparison.

Whereas “The Force Awakens” was a solid starting point that perhaps rehashed a bit too much from “A New Hope,” “The Last Jedi” steers away from being merely the “Empire Strikes Back” of this new trilogy by having it’s own, compelling story to share.

Flaws out of the way first, I didn’t care too much for the first 20-ish minutes of the film. This introductory sequence felt oddly conventional, and pretty boring because of it.

It also introduced the misplaced humor that can be found throughout “The Last Jedi.” Humor is essential in a story like this, as it’s what makes our lead characters feel real, and not just some cool space superheroes.

However, I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not at the attempts at humor, as it was mostly placed in inappropriate moments. Hearing a main protagonist take the time to spew a one-liner or make some joke during a life-or-death situation makes these effective characters feel less intelligent as a result. There are plenty of other moments where the humor comes naturally, so why the choice to shoehorn in awkward bits for audience chuckles? I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s to offset the bold, dark new direction that writer/director Rian Johnson took for the newest episode in the historic saga.

Because of this, and a number of other factors, “The Last Jedi” is easily the most satisfying “Star Wars” experience of the past 30 years.

“The Last Jedi” is surprisingly focused and, in a way, modest when compared to it’s predecessor, in terms of story. Where “The Force Awakens” had a typical “Big thing is going to destroy the galaxy, destroy it fast” story-line found in way too many big-budgeted films these days, “The Last Jedi” is excellently character-focused and holds back it’s greatest punches for just the right time.

What makes “The Last Jedi” most satisfying from a story perspective is how our characters are separated for a majority of the screen-time, but each sub-plot seamlessly feeds into the others. No individual journey is noticeably inferior, which means we’re always engaged, even though the story is jumping around the galaxy fairly frequently.

Not only are these smaller stories interesting, but compelling things actually happen inside of them. There are actual surprises! There are consequences due to actions! Our characters grow! What a concept in an age where superheroes consistently enter and exit the same movie unchanged character-wise.

Interesting things aren’t just happening to be cool, but both our heroes and villains are permanently effected to due the actions of others.

Outside of the story, one of the best parts of “The Last Jedi” is how it views the gray-area between the light and the dark sides. Many characters are conflicted as to where they lie on the spectrum, leading to the most compelling storytelling the saga has seen in quite sometime.

The visuals are also absolutely breathtaking, which has become a standard for the modern “Star Wars” flicks. Particularly impressive are the planets introduced here; specifically, the casino-housing Canto Bight and the remote Crait, which sports some of the most beautifully dynamic color pallets in the film.

Along with the new locations, there are a host of new characters also introduced here, to varying degrees of success.

The best, and most prevalent of these characters is by far Luke Skywalker. Mark Hamill steals the show here, with not only some nostalgic value to add, but some of the most potent story moments, as well.

As for the other, smaller additions, Finn’s adversary-turned-ally Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) had some strong moments, but ultimately turned annoying when she couldn’t end any encounter without trying to teach something or have some sort of morally-high action.

DJ (Benicio Del Toro) is fairly minor, but gives way to one of the best moments of the entire film, and Holdo (Laura Dern) makes for an excellent counter to the returning Poe, which raises questions about both characters’ intentions.

“The Last Jedi” brilliantly builds the tension riding on each group of characters to a spectacular climax that feels whole, not hollow like the weightless “Rogue One.” The peak of the film was so good it actually somewhat overshadowed the last act, which was no lesser in quality, but it’s hard to follow cinematic action perfection.

I’m not typically one to get caught up in the hype, but “The Last Jedi” absolutely shattered my expectations. Not content with making just another “Star Wars” movie, Johnson trusted his audience and took the risks needed to make not only a good “Star Wars” move, but an excellent film in every way.

The only major downside? Episode IX has a lot to live up to…