Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is a fresh, exciting, and wonderfully diverse new instalment of the space saga that still retains the timeless struggle between good and evil as well as a certain delightful corniness. Picking up shortly after the events of Episode VII – The Force Awakens, members of the Resistance are on the run from the powerful First Order. Heroes Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), and General Leia (Carrie Fisher) stand off against Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) while Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to persuade Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to rejoin the rebellion and teach her how to become a Jedi.
Although there are still plenty of action scenes from space shoot-outs to lightsaber battles, The Last Jedi is marked by a sense of retreat and stalling for time. The majority of the Resistance is forced to go on the defence for most of the movie runtime, scrambling for ways to outwit the First Order who has them surrounded and outpaced. (General Leia and company cannot make the jump to hyperspace in their ship without being tracked by their enemies and their resources have been essentially tapped out.) The Resistance greatly relies on the efforts of Rey, Finn, and newcomer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), who separate from the main group in order to get help but then fail at achieving their original objectives. Many sacrifices are made in order for the Resistance to survive—pride swallowed, difficult choices made, and lives given—but thankfully, hope is preserved above all else.
Writer-director Rian Johnson brings up ideas and questions about true heroism, leadership, and morality through the many characters of The Last Jedi. Man-of-action Poe butts heads with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) over different styles of leadership when Leia is incapacitated. An encounter with amoral thief and hacker DJ (Benecio del Toro) enriches this theme as he points out the violent nature of the never-ending war between the Resistance and First Order (themselves a reincarnation of the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire). But the greatest message about heroism is that it can have many faces and forms, including women (Rey), people of colour (Finn, Poe, and Rose), and the experienced (Holdo).
The history and mythology of the Force, Jedis, and Siths are explored and expanded in this eighth episode as well. Through Rey’s plotline, viewers discover that Luke’s hideout on porg-infested Ahch-To is tied to the beginning of the Jedi religion. Although Luke has closed himself off from the Force completely, Rey finds herself pulled by both the light and dark sides as she tries to discover the truth about her own heritage. A mysterious psychic bond between her and Kylo Ren leads to deeply intimate conversations with both characters believing that they can sway the other to their own side. Kylo Ren’s inner conflict, as established by his contentious family history, drives his desire to destroy the past—light and dark—and start anew.
Additionally, The Last Jedi is quite a visual feast with its plethora of cinematic red accents and new crop of strange creatures and locales. Johnson seems to have taken a page from Guillermo del Toro’s book while building on his red, white, and black motif in the film’s final confrontation on icy, desolate Crait: the blood-red marks on the ground are ostensibly a natural phenomenon of red salt beneath the snow, much like the red clay in del Toro’s Crimson Peak. Snoke’s red room also alludes to other movies but the villain himself reminded me of Ed Harris’ robe-wearing Wilford in the train-set dystopian movie Snowpiercer. Aside from the amazing sets, plenty of fun new creatures show up in the film. Adorable porgs, crystalline vulptices, gentle fathiers, disgruntled fish nuns, and a dizzying assortment of gambling-addicted aliens on Canto Bight are sure to sell many toys and figurines for Disney.
Lastly, it must be noted that this was Carrie Fisher’s last film and The Last Jedi is infused with an air of honour toward the beloved actress. Meta moments of affection and mourning surround her scenes, especially in the ones shared with Mark Hamill.
Ratings (out of 5):
Overall Average: 4.5