Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an outstanding film but due to the pressure, ended up having to play it safe while pandering to the audiences nostalgia. The Last Jedi would not be able to get away with being safe and would actually need to some risks. It succeed at going against audience expectations to deliver an unforgettable story.
Before watching this film, it’s best advise not to have a sense of expectation. Not because the film is bad but because it lacks predictability. No it’s not an Empire Strikes Back clone, no the heroes will not come out on top and the questions you had will not be answered. In an era dominated by nostalgia, The Last Jedi avoids the cliches by completely going against what one may expect to happen.
Warning: Spoiler Alert
The First Order Strikes Back
Following the events of The Force Awakens, the New Republic has been decimated and the First Order is making a move to take complete control of the galaxy. In an attempt to wipe out the Resistance, General Hux launches an attack against their stronghold. Poe Dameron leads an attack against a First Order Dreadnought that results in a Pyrrhic victory. This victory is short lived as the Kylo Ren leads an attack that incapacitates General Leia and wipes out most of the Resistance leadership.
Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is put in command of the remaining Resistance forces but is keeping Poe in the dark regarding a plan of action. This leads to Finn and Rose Tico to form their own plan by finding a code breaker who could help them shutdown a tracking device on Supreme Leader Snoke flagship.
Meanwhile; Rey has found Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To but he has lost the will to preserve the Jedi Order and bring balance to the force. Haunted by his failure of having lost Ben Solo to the Dark Side, he is hesitant to take on another padawan. It’s during this time when Rey begins to build a bond with Kylo Ren through a telepathic connection in the Force.
The Force Unleashed
Rian Johnson wasn’t going to play it safe nor pander to nostalgia, he wanted to take a risk and it paid-off. The Last Jedi is an entry that defies expectations and predictability in favor of a gritty struggle in which our heroes have little hope.
Nothing will happen as one would expect and many questions go unanswered or are not the big surprised fans wanted. Rey isn’t the decedent of noble warriors, Supreme Leader Snoke goes down easily, Kylo Ren becomes more powerful than his grandfather and rarely will good triumph over darkness. Yet this works to its advantage because Rey’s story breaks from the “birth right” troupes and forces her to forge her own destiny. The lack of a backstory for Snoke means the film isn’t boggled down by unneeded exposition while setting up Kylo Ren to be the true villain of the new trilogy.
For most of the film, our heroes have almost no hope of escaping the First Order. Any victory they achieve is at a great cost with little gained. Poa’s attack on the Dreadnought results in the death of many Resistance pilots, Vice Admiral Holdo plan results in the fleet being wiped out, Finn and Rose plan accomplishes almost nothing despite the risks taken. Even as the film ends on the hope of a better future, it’s all just wishful thinking at this point. Overall; The Last Jedi captures that feeling of hopelessness better than The Empire Strikes Back.
In the end, it all comes down to themes of letting go of the past and embracing the future (a subtle jab at the nostalgic obsessed J.J. Abrams). The old heroes need to stop fearing the future and instead embrace it by stepping aside so the new generation could forge their destiny. This is best explained when Yoda returns for brief moment to guide Luke about how he should preserve the Jedi Order.
Revenge of the Sith
The Force Awakens biggest problem was playing it safe and being dependent on nostalgia. The Last Jedi biggest problem is way too much comic relief that at times will feel inappropriate at best or botch the moment completely (aka make it a “Save Martha” moment). When hope is almost lost, a little humor could brighten the mood but it needs to be timed properly for a balanced effect.
Then there was that one moment early in the film were Leia is on the verge of death but uses the force to float in space. While not a cringe moment when compared to Greedo shooting first or 80% of The Phantom Menace, it was still a moment that was out of place for the lore. This was the ultimate low point of the film and they should have killed off Leia at this point because Carrie Fishers absence is going to create problems in the next film.
The Star Wars we Need
For anyone who has not seen The Last Jedi, with all honesty you will really enjoy it if The Empire Strikes Back was your favorite film in the original trilogy. No, it’s not an Empire clone but it does a better job of having that feeling of hopelessness. At the same time, it’s not looking too much into the past for inspiration but embracing the future.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi neither plays safe nor panders to nostalgia but instead goes against ones expectations with the result being a masterpiece. Yes it has flaws but it makes up for it by keeping you invested in a new generation of heroes and villains.
Final Score: 9/10
Disclaimer: I bought my ticket and watched the film at AMC Saratoga 14.