“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” Does Not Go the Way You Think, and That Makes It AWESOME

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When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was first teased to audiences in 2014, prior to its premiere in December of the year that followed, fans of the immensely epic sci-fi space opera franchise had their minds blown. After all, it promised the return of characters from the original trilogy, the last film of which (“Return of the Jedi”) was released in 1983, a gap of over 30 years. The gist of the trailers leading to the premiere of “The Force Awakens” hinted at the old (both in- and out-of-universe) characters passing the torch to a new generation of heroes to protect the Galaxy from darkness.

That was, details notwithstanding, pretty much what happened in the plot of “The Force Awakens.” The new generation, under the guidance of the original heroes, stand as a Resistance against the First Order, the resurgent remnants of the old evil Empire. They took on a powerful planet-wrecking weapon and a new Dark-Side Force user, and somehow they prevailed. In a way, some viewers of the film thought that it may have been too by-the-numbers in the way “Force Awakens” followed certain plots beats of past “Star Wars” films. They’re in for a surprise with “The Last Jedi” then.

Yep; Episode VIII: the second installment of the “Star Wars” Sequel Trilogy that was developed under the umbrella of Disney. If anybody thought that being connected to The House of Mouse would make an action-packed franchise like “Star Wars” lighten up, then “The Force Awakens” was a wake-up call. But “The Last Jedi” in turn could be compared to being thrown out of the bed, hauled up to your feet and getting slapped fully awake; because not only is this movie emphasizing grim and dark, it intentionally twists regular “Star Wars” plot conventions and makes it work.

There have always been significant gaps of plot time passing in between “Star Wars” installments, usually years between films and decades between trilogies. “The Last Jedi” starts changing things up by being a direct (seconds-later) continuation from “The Force Awakens.” Having been saved from annihilation by a planet-destroying weapon last movie, this one starts off with the Resistance making a desperate escape from the First Order’s conventional fleet. It’s kind of like the evacuation from Hoth back in “The Empire Strikes Back” but significantly different in some aspects, and worse.

I suppose it also bears mentioning because of how important it was when it happened. “The Last Jedi” is the final film appearance of veteran actress Carrie Fisher before her death in December 2016. She was reprising her iconic role as Princess, then General, Leia Organa (one-time Solo). Luckily she did complete all her scenes in the production, and she gives a hell of a performance as a leader who has been through hell and back and is doing it all over again even as she is clearly getting worn down by it. In between mentoring her subordinates to be able to carry on the fight even if she should fall, Leia does get one scene of awesome that reminds the audience that she is biologically of the Skywalker bloodline of Jedi, like her twin brother.

That then, is where Luke Skywalker comes in. The hero of the original “Star Wars” trilogy portrayed by Mark Hamill; he also voices The Joker in animation and videogames. But being Luke was what made Hamill’s name legend, and it was interesting to see how he would now interpret the character 30-plus years after his great triumph in “Return of the Jedi.” He just has that age range now where he’d be perfect as the old master and…no, he’s not.

But that’s the thing. In a big subversion from fan expectations (seen already in “Last Jedi” trailers), Luke is a burned-out old man without any serious interest in teaching, especially after one of his past pupils went to the Dark Side, destroyed his fledgling New Jedi and is now the First Order’s top enforcer. Still, despite exiling himself and not having seriously used his power in the Force for some time, he’s just as capable of teaching a new apprentice/padawan in Rey (Daisy Ridley), and later execute some cosmic-level impressive feat that I won’t be spoiling.

Anyway, that’s all for the classic characters that figure in the movie’s plot. Yes, Chewbacca’s still there despite the loss of Han Solo, but the best usage of him is simply as pilot of the good old Millennium Falcon. R2-D2 and C-3PO are just like cameos. So now let’s look at the “new” characters’ appearances.

Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a marvel. We were surprised at how he suddenly became the central figure back in “The Force Awakens” when her powers awakened. Now she needs some guidance to “find her place” in the grand scheme of things. She’s got two obstacles though. Luke Skywalker, whom she set out to find, is a very reluctant Jedi teacher now.

Furthermore, she seems to have formed a linking of minds with the last person in the galaxy she wants anything to do with: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), formerly Ben Solo, the father-killing Dark-Side apprentice of First Order Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). For some reason, at certain times they are able to communicate across space, trying to figure each other out, especially as it becomes clear that their Force talents may be a rough equal. Their interaction plays off like a variation of how young Luke struggled to bring his father Darth Vader back from the darkness long ago. But like most of “The Last Jedi” there’s a twist. Just as Luke says in the trailer, “It won’t go the way you think.”

Boy howdy, it doesn’t. The Resistance is in constant dire straits for this film, with ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and First Order defector Finn (John Boyega) having their own roles to play in the struggle to survive and keep the flame of rebellion alive. In terms of character development, the former learns the nature of being a commander; while the latter is able to gain some closure from his past to move forward (we saw his duel with his former superior in the trailers, after all).

Outside of the characters, “The Last Jedi” is a visual juggernaut in the vein of “The Force Awakens” and the “Rogue One” spinoff, all crisp pictures with very impressive tech designs and set locations. Certain alien locales however end up as feeling rather tacked-on, though it’s saved by some Chekov-like world building that falls into place in the end of the movie. John Williams is still the music master with the further expansions of his soundtrack for the expansive “Star Wars” saga.

But everything good to be said about this film can be laid on the feet of director Rian Johnson, taking over brilliantly from J.J Abrams of Episode VII. Watching “The Last Jedi” from beginning to end might well explain to viewers why Disney has decided to offer Johnson the plum opportunity to develop a new trilogy of “Star Wars” films, effective putting him in a position to shape it similar to George Lucas of old. As if that’s no bigger commendation for his and everyone’s efforts, then I will say now that any fan of “Star Wars” or epic movies in general must not miss this film in theaters. Yes, things get too dire for comfort, but the saga has always been about hope.

Photo courtesy of Mashable

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