The Last Jedi Spoiler Review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Rian Johnson‘s exciting, unpredictable Star Wars: The Last Jedi.)

With Star Wars: The Last Jedi, writer-director Rian Johnson takes the Star Wars saga into uncharted territory. Johnson resists fan service at nearly every turn, crafting the most surprising, most exciting film in the entire Star Wars franchise. A film that both rejects and embraces legacy; a film that takes characters we’ve grown to love and exposes their flaws, while also revealing that they’re more than their flaws. Our The Last Jedi spoiler review takes a deep dive into this wonderful, unpredictable new entry in the Star Wars saga.

Spoilers follow, obviously.

Luke Skywalker tried to warn us. When the full trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi hit the web, there was particular emphasis given to one of Mark Hamill’s lines: “This is not going to go the way you think.” It was almost as if both Luke and director Rian Johnson were dropping a not-so-subtle hint about what was in store for audiences with the new Star Wars film: whatever it is you imagined would happen; whatever fan theory you obsessed over between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi; whatever assumption you made – chuck them all into the trash, because this is not going to go the way you think.

With The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson attempts to tell Star Wars fans that it’s okay to let the past go, that staying firmly rooted in one safe space is limiting, and that there’s an entire galaxy out there to explore. Word broke recently that Johnson will forge a brand new Star Wars trilogy removed from the ongoing Skywalker saga, and The Last Jedi almost feels like a test pilot for that, a film that says there’s so much more to this universe than sacred texts. That may threaten some, but to me, it’s the most exciting development in the Star Wars saga for quite some time.

J.J. Abrams’ endlessly entertaining Star Wars: The Force Awakens approached the Star Wars saga the way a really great cover band recreates classic songs for an admiring audience. Abrams’ film hit all the right notes, played all the old familiar keys, and reminded audiences why they fell in love with Star Wars to begin with. But if Abrams’ film is like a collection of well-known hits from a really tight cover band, Johnson’s is like jazz fusion – a blend of styles and moods that reminds you of something familiar before going off into wild, unexpected new places.

It would’ve been easy, and possibly more digestible, for Johnson to emulate The Empire Strikes Back with his film the way Abrams borrowed from A New Hope. Instead, Johnson takes what the audience knows and expects from Empire and flips it on its head. The Last Jedi isn’t interested in recreating the past. But it’s not exactly adhering to the logic of the villainous Kylo Ren, who suggests that Rey “Let the past die – kill it if you have to.” Instead, it’s saying that it’s time to let the past be the past, and try to think about the future.

The last Jedi rey

May The Force Be With You, Always: The Story

The Last Jedi opens with a jaw-dropping space battle that kicks-off with surprisingly funny banter. As hot-shot pilot Poe (Oscar Isaac; ridiculously handsome) hails First Order flunky General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson, practically breaking a tooth as he chews on the scenery) over a radio and stalls him with a funny back-and-forth, The Last Jedi is wasting no time in cluing the audience in to the fact that this is not going to be like any other Star Wars film you’ve seen before. That’s not to say the other Star Wars films lack humor. In fact, they’re loaded with it. But the other films in the saga tend to work their way up to the comedy. Last Jedi hits you with it right out of the gate.

The humor gives way to a visually stunning battle sequence, in which members of the weary, outnumbered Resistance, led by General Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher) war against the might of the First Order, Star Wars’ version of the alt-right. The staging of this sequence wastes no time in revealing director Rian Johnson’s considerable skill. In wordless moments, Johnson is able to create remarkable pathos with a group of doomed characters we barely know anything about, particularly Veronica Ngô, playing Paige Tico. Paige is a brand new character, but don’t get too attached to her, because she’s about to meet her end. But rather than having her be a casualty in the background, The Last Jedi gives her a heart-pounding, emotional moment of heroism as she does everything in her power to drop a series of bombs. We know absolutely nothing about this character, yet the combination of Johnson’s direction, Ngô’s performance, Bob Ducsay’s editing, Steve Yedlin’s cinematography and that unbeatable, iconic music from John Williams hooks us. As Paige fiddles with the medallion on a necklace around her neck right before things go south, we’re drawn in and and invested into this character, and we feel a surprising sense of loss when she dies.

From here, The Last Jedi rockets off into multiple directions, yet keeps coming back to the same place. Like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, this isn’t so much a movie about battle as it is a movie about retreat. The First Order has the Resistance on the ropes, and Poe, Leia and company are forced to run for their lives. An attack leaves Leia in a coma, and puts the mysterious yet stylish-as-hell Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) in charge. Poe finds himself constantly clashing with Holdo, to the point that he sanctions a secret side-mission to possibly undermine her. That mission involves former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), freshly awoken from the coma he was in at the end of The Force Awakens, and hero-worshipping maintenance worker Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), sister of Paige.

Finn and Rose jet off to the casino planet of Canto Bight, which looks like something out of a James Bond film, only with more aliens. The pair are trying to find a master codebreaker, but instead team up with the weird, possibly crazy DJ (Benicio del Toro, doing what I’m 99% sure is a Tom Waits impression).

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on an island on the planet of Ahch-To, trying to convince Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker to come out of retirement to help save the day. But Luke isn’t the noble hero Rey had heard of from stories; instead, he’s a bitter, angry loner who wants the Jedi to die once and for all. While on the island, Rey’s Force powers enable to her communicate with Luke’s nephew and former student turned bad guy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Ren is still dealing with emotional issues – stabbing your father with a lightsaber can do that to a guy. Rey is convinced that she can turn Ren from the Dark Side to the Light, thus giving the Resistance a much-needed ally. Luke doesn’t buy it.

And Luke is right.

All of these threads eventually converge into a big, emotional showdown where Luke finally faces his fears, Rey accepts her place as a Jedi, and Kylo Ren becomes the angry, bitter, unredeemable new leader of The First Order. And nothing will ever be the same again.

Last Jedi Kylo Ren

Waving Goodbye To The Legacy: What Works

First thing’s first: I don’t know if I’m ready to declare The Last Jedi as the best Star Wars movie, but it’s certainly the best looking film in the franchise. Rian Johnson brings an auteur’s eye to this film, and crafts something that looks and feels remarkably different than the other Star Wars films. Here, Johnson is borrowing from both Akira Kurosawa and Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger – this is a samurai film crossed with a classical musical. The Star Wars universe should, in theory, have no real limits visually, and Johnson embraces that with gusto. There’s a scene set in the throne room of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) where everything as far as the eye can see – from the walls to the guards – are a shade of sharp crimson. Then there are the planets – the stark, secluded loneliness of Ahch-To; the glitz and glam covering up corruption on Canto Bight; the planet Crait, with its salty surface covering bright red earth underneath.

Then there are the directorial flourishes Johnson employs – slow-motion used during the opening bombing run; the audio dropping out when Holdo sacrifices herself by ramming her ship at lightspeed through a First Order fleet; the anime-infused climactic lightsaber duel between Ren and Luke. The Last Jedi is visually thrilling, full of shot compositions that will floor and thrill you in equal measure.

The climax of The Last Jedi involves a moment when Kylo Ren and Luke face off in the shadow of looming AT-AT walkers, and it’s just about the most visually stunning composition that’s ever been created in a Star Wars film. It’s as if the very legacy of the franchise as a whole is looming over this one climactic moment; a moment where Luke wins not by besting Ren in combat, but rather by telling him that his warped beliefs are flawed, and that his line of thinking will never truly result in victory.

The visuals aren’t the only things here that are going to surprise you. Right from the start, Johnson is unapologetic in his quest to shake things up. Anyone who formed fan theories since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 will quickly find all their theorizing was for naught. While sequels are, by their nature, the very definition of fan service, The Last Jedi isn’t interested in trafficking in it. This might be viewed with hostility by hardcore fans, but that’s not what Johnson is trying to do here. Instead, he’s trying to tell a story about both embracing and letting go of the past. In the process, he’s sending a message to every Star Wars filmmaker who comes after him: there are so many new stories to tell here. Go out and find them.

In the book The Art of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson says that when it came to making The Last Jedi, recreating things from the past weren’t as essential as forging the future. “At the end of the day, it’s not the documents in the archives,” the filmmaker says. ”It’s not old interviews. It’s not research. The only research that really matters is us reaching back to when you were six and thinking, ‘What were the things that made Star Wars feel real then – that inspired me, personally?’ And then following your heart with those things.”

“The vibe was always, ‘We all know this world in our bones from growing up with it. But let’s make something new and exciting in it,’” Johnson continues. “That was something that we all shared, and we all very naturally felt.”

In the same book, Neal Scanlan, who created the creature effects for The Last Jedi, sums this approach up succinctly. “We’re waving goodbye to the legacy that is the original films and prequels, even to The Force Awakens,” Scanlan says. “Rian is taking this film to a place that I hope the fans adore and is as successful as any other place that we’ve been. But it’s definitely a place that we haven’t been before. And that’s liberating, isn’t it – because where does Star Wars go from here? What a fantastic way to say, ‘Goodbye.’ And ‘Let’s go somewhere else.’”

“Let’s go somewhere else,” is The Last Jedi’s mantra. That iconic moment from the end of The Force Awakens, where Rey hands Luke his old lightsaber? It was a setup for a hysterical scene where Luke chucks it over his shoulder and walks away without a word. You thought Snoke was going to be the ultimate big bad? Nope – he gets killed halfway through this film. Rey and Kylo Ren are obviously going to team up, since Ren is still redeemable, just like Darth Vader, right? Absolutely not. Ren is too far gone, and now he’s the official big bad. Surely, Rey’s mysterious parents must be some iconic characters we already know, thus making her the prototypical chosen one! Wrong again: they were nobodies, and they’re dead now. Every step of the way, Johnson and The Last Jedi are reminding you, “This is not going to go the way you think.”

Is that a cheat? No doubt some will think it is. And that’s their right. But personally speaking, I found this approach to be refreshing. I loved The Force Awakens, but I freely admit that it was a collection of greatest hits moments. While there’s nothing wrong with that, there’s something inherently more exciting about a film like The Last Jedi; a film that doesn’t want to hold its audience’s hand but rather wants to push them head-first into a new, possibly dangerous direction.

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About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a writer who frowns a lot. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, /Film, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413