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'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Film Review: Spectacle without sacrificing humanity

December 12, 2017Ben MK

At the end of 2016's The Force Awakens, moviegoers were filled with both a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of anticipation. Director J.J. Abrams had successfully reinvigorated the franchise, introducing iconic new characters and weaving their stories into the fabric of Star Wars lore. Yet, the film ended on something of a cliffhanger, leaving audiences wondering — just what kind of role would Luke Skywalker play in the followup?

Now, with director Rian Johnson's eagerly anticipated The Last Jedi, we finally have the answer. Picking up shortly after the events of its predecessor, Episode VIII of the Star Wars saga finds Captain Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega), BB-8 and the rest of the Resistance on the run. Pursued relentlessly through the galaxy by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order forces of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), their only hope lies with long-lost Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Will Rey (Daisy Ridley) succeed in convincing Luke to end his self-exile and rejoin the fight against the dark side?

But while The Force Awakens was criticized for hewing too closely to the formula of the original films — specifically, A New Hope — the same can't be said for this installment. It makes sense, given how characters like Rey, Finn and Poe have now become ingrained in the consciousness of the moviegoing public. And it frees up Johnson — who also wrote the film — to explore their backstories and develop their arcs, paying dutiful homage to the original trilogy without having to hinge the narrative on the audience's familiarity with it.

Of course, one of those characters featured prominently in The Last Jedi is Luke, whose purpose here is partly to further Rey and Kylo Ren's storylines, but who is also a focal point of the story in his own right. Last we saw him, he was looking upon Rey with much hesitation and internal conflict, as she presented him with the very same lightsaber Obi-Wan bestowed upon him so many years ago on Tatooine. Now, as Rey's reluctant mentor, Luke must face his demons while also deciding what role the Jedi might play in shaping the future of the galaxy.

Joining Hamill and the other returning actors are several new cast members, including Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, a Resistance technician who turns personal tragedy into personal triumph, joining Finn on a dangerous secret mission, Laura Dern as Amilyn Holdo, a Vice Admiral who butts head with Poe, and Benicio Del Toro as a rogue-for-hire who may or may not be trustworthy. Some of these new characters make more of a meaningful impression within the narrative than others, but in true Star Wars fashion, they each have a role to play in helping this galaxy far, far away feel like a living, breathing entity unto its own.

Last, but not least, there's Carrie Fisher, whose sudden passing left a gaping hole in the hearts of Star Wars fans that no amount of visual effects magic could possibly fill, and to whom The Last Jedi bids a fitting and fond farewell. Suffice to say, fans won't be left wanting for space battles and lightsaber combat, but what's most impressive is just how much humanity there is in the story, despite all the spectacle. From Rey to Rose, Finn to Poe, Leia and even Kylo Ren, each of these characters embarks on an emotional journey over the course of the movie. And when it's all said and done, it's the impact of those journeys that viewers will feel the most.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi releases December 15th, 2017 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 32 min.

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