***This review contains spoilers for The Last Jedi.***
Seeing “The Force Awakens” in theaters, almost a decade after “Revenge of the Sith” released, was a mind-blowing experience. Now, however, Star Wars had a reputation to uphold, and with criticisms saying Epsode VII was a rehash of “A New Hope,” could this new entry stand on its own?
To begin with, the setting for the film is immediately more engaging, taking place almost immediately after the events of the previous movie. After failing to nuke the Resistance base with their Death Star clone, the First Order decides instead to simply attack the planet with a massive fleet, forcing the Resistance to evacuate. When they discover the First Order can track ships through hyperspace, the evacuation turns into a desperate struggle to evade their captors before their fuel runs out.
Let us get the negatives out of the way first. For the first third or even half of the movie, there are simply too many plot arcs happening at once. Rey is trying to convince Luke Skywalker to come out of hiding. The Resistance is trying to flee the First Order’s technological superiority. Kylo Ren is having an identity crisis and struggling to come to terms with killing his father as Snoke wanted. Fin wakes up from his coma and immediately sets out to find a codebreaker who can smuggle him into the enemy cruiser so the Resistance fleet can escape. Rey begins to learn about the Force and why Luke ran away.
All of this happens within the first 30 minutes of the film, forcing it to rapidly flip between perspectives every couple of minutes as it attempts to gain solid footing.
Once it does so, however, the difference is staggering. The main cast is intricately more nuanced than before; every one of them struggles with a glaring character flaw that impacts their success at every turn. Poe Dameron is reckless and hot-headed, sacrificing at least half of their bombing fleet to take out one cruiser, and constantly stepping over authority. Rey is idealistic and possibly a little self-righteous, viewing the Force as a weapon and throwing herself into harm’s way because she believes she is the only one that can save Kylo. Finn only cares about one person, Rey, and his fear of the First Order has turned into a self-destructive rage. Kylo Ren’s identity crisis forces him to decide for himself where his allegiances lie, and whether he truly is the monster everyone thinks he is.
With more colorful characters, the plot has room to evolve beyond the original trilogy. No one side is portrayed in an overly positive or negative light, casting doubt on everything the past seven movies seemingly built. Luke points out the Jedi, in their arrogance, allowed the Empire to rise out of the corpse of the Old Republic. Allies of the Resistance, fearful of the growing power of the First Order, do not respond to Leah’s calls for help: they are alone in their fight. The smuggler, under a banner of neutrality, actually displays a lack of morality, and is quick to turn on Finn and his friends with the promise of more money. The Sith, arrogant as ever, are their own destruction, as Kylo Ren kills Snoke as an act of defiance. Rey clings to an identity marred by parents she never knew, and turns to idols who continue to fail her, first Luke, and then Kylo.
The theme of this movie is conflict. It is everywhere, and as Luke tells Rey, the Force is in the midst of this conflict. The Jedi claim to find it in peace, while the Sith claim to find it in violence and domination. The film seems to tackle the very tenants of the galaxy, a refreshing change of pace from the almost cliché plot of “The Force Awakens.”
As a result, the film was free to wow the audience in new and exciting ways, such as Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo launching the last remaining Resistance cruiser towards the First Order at light speed, tearing the enemy to shreds in the most spectacular way possible, or Luke outwitting Kylo Ren and the entire First Order with a powerful Force apparition, as well as Rey’s more gradual development in the Force compared to Luke’s.
With room to breathe, “The Last Jedi” profoundly delivered on the promise “The Force Awakens” teased. With the theme of this trilogy more clearly defined, I eagerly await Episode IX. This was exactly the film I was looking for, and I cannot wait to see what is next.