Star Wars is one of the most beloved film franchises of all time. Its characters and themes have transcended the confines of a “galaxy far far away” and spawned into cultural phenomenon. With that level of fandom comes an enormous level of pressure to meet expectations, especially for the new Star Wars film, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”.
Since Disney acquired the rights for Star Wars from George Lucas, there has been trepidation about how the entertainment giant would treat the franchise. Although fans have been generally positive of the last two films released by Disney, “The Last Jedi” has caused the most division amongst the Star Wars community since “The Empire Strikes Back”, which also involved shocking twists and an unexpected progression of the story. The film currently has a user rating of 49% on Rotten Tomatoes; the second lowest rated Star Wars film, “Attack of the Clones”, sits at 57%.
Despite the growth that the major characters undergo, fans have been reluctant to alter their nostalgic biases when judging “The Last Jedi” on its own merits. The major theme of the film focuses on using one’s past as motivation to become something greater in the process.
Rey (Daisy Ridley) is struggling to understand her place without her parents. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is trying to live up to his legacy as a Skywalker in spite of his confliction between the light and the dark side. Luke (Mark Hamill) is coping with overwhelming guilt from losing Kylo, the supposed chosen one and his nephew, to the dark side.
Almost all of the actors are great in their reprised roles, though a few performances stand out. Driver is fantastic as Kylo Ren, who is the most complex character in the series to date. Even after killing his father, Han Solo, in an effort to dedicate himself to the dark side, he is still drawn to light. Darth Vader, his grandfather, succumbed to the dark side quickly, whereas Kylo’s journey is filled with confliction and self-doubt. Driver expertly expresses this conflict through nuanced facial expressions and delivery, maintaining the rough exterior of his character while still exposing a level of vulnerability.
Similarly, Hamill offers a remarkable performance as Luke Skywalker, a role he has not played in over three decades. He plays an older, damaged version of the famous Jedi master who sees the Jedi order, and more importantly himself, as a failure. Luke is grappling with the overwhelming guilt of failing all those he loves and the galaxy as a whole, which serves as an incredibly interesting and emotional arc for the character. Hamill steals every scene is he is in, as Luke’s tale of redemption is highlighted by his grizzled yet poignant performance.
The visuals in the film are unmatched in terms of spectacle and superior computer animation. This might well be the best looking Star Wars film to date. The cinematography, especially during the space battle sequences, is superb. Director Rian Johnson offers incredible wide shots of the various interplanetary locales that are simply gorgeous. He conversely uses close ups to highlight thrilling action sequences, as this film contains a lightsaber fight involving Rey and Kylo that is easily one of the best and grittiest fights in the series.
There are some issues with the film’s pacing, particularly the subplot focusing on Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer Rose (Kelly Tran) tracking down a hacker. Although crucial to the film’s plot, it is not particularly interesting compared to the rest of the film.
What really has fans up in arms are the new directions and ideas that “The Last Jedi” introduces. The film advances the mythology of the force to places never previously explored that still resonates with the spirit of the earlier films. Johnson should be commended for the risks he chose to take in order to create new and intriguing story elements. Unfortunately, many fan’s reluctance to accept the unfamiliar in favor of recycled themes has drawn an unreasonable amount of backlash.
The controversy similar to the release of “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1980. Fans were unreceptive to its jarring twists, especially Darth Vader turning out to be Luke’s father. Today, however, it is widely considered the best Star Wars film of the series. Star Wars fans are often as nostalgic as they come, and with that comes the inability to look past personal bias. No amount of state of the art special effects, intriguing plot and character development, or breath-taking action scenes will ever surpass many fans’ first memory of seeing Darth Vader force choke an imperial officer.
Not judging “The Last Jedi” on its own merits is a travesty, as it is a fantastic continuation of the Star Wars franchise and should get fans excited for future films. In time, fans will likely come around once again and appreciate Johnson’s evolution of the Skywalker story.
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