Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) (PG-13)

I saw the newest "Star Wars" movie on opening weekend but I've resisted writing something about it until now. I'm not exactly sure why I wanted to wait, maybe the initial buzz about it has worn down slightly and I feel I can talk about it, even generally, without being at risk of spoiling and incurring the rage of the devotee. More than likely, I'm just lazy. Whatever the reason, I'm glad I waited because everything that was being written by critics and fans alike started to separate people based on their dedication to the series: die-hard fans and the casual viewer.

This distinction needs to be made, because a lot of the objections to the newest movie have been on the premise that it strays from true "Star Wars" territory in theme, narrative, and dogma (and I don't use that word lightly). Some ardent fans of the universe who have consumed all types of content across many mediums have voiced that this film lacks the je nais se quoi to call it a true "Star Wars" movie. Which begs the question: who was the movie really made for?

"The Force Awakens" was a safe movie. It had a safe plot and nothing too surreal or edgy to cause fans to abandon the newest trilogy. J. J. Abrams is just the kind of director to hire for this and "The Force Awakens" was a success because it played it safe. Having pacified fans and critics that the newest installments in the series were likely to be good, Rian Johnson steps in to take the reigns both directing and writing. If Abrams is safe, Johnson is experimental and it shows immediately.

"The Last Jedi" picks up shortly after "The Force Awakens" ends, as the First Order is attempting to finally eliminate the Resistance once and for all. The First Order has a trifecta of bad men in charge. There's Snoke (Andy Serkis), the Emperor Palpatine of his movies; then there's Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), our series' Darth Vader; and finally General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson)...and you get the idea.

As the First Order closes in on the Resistance, Rey (Daisy Ridley) attempts to convince Luke (Mark Hamill) to come back to the Resistance and fight. Her time with the old Jedi begins the thread that runs through the movie concerning past lives, regrets, and irreversible decisions. Much like the original trilogy, the audience is presented with flawed characters who may or may not be beyond redemption. Johnson seems keen to erase some of the sins of episodes I-III during these moments as his writing reinforces what The Force is and how it operates, and the dichotomy between the good and dark sides of the force.

With the return of the cast of characters, one rising star becomes clear: women. Women are generals, heroes, villains, strategists, and just as valuable as the men. This is a huge break in the Star Wars world, considering how Leia is the only lead woman in the original trilogy and practically the only woman who speaks in the movies. We can begin to see the beginning of something powerful with Rey in front as the Resistance relies on its female support.

One thing that stands out to me is how the movie treats time. It almost reminded me of Hitchcock's "Rope" (bear with me). The movie's narrative—without giving too much away—takes place in a finite amount of space and time, which loses some of the original 'magic' of the Star Wars world. While it does make for a more compelling action movie, the sense of grandeur the previous movies had, is kind of lost here. To combat this claustrophobic, pressurized sensation, Johnson creates an unnecessarily long diversion that ultimately isn't satisfying.

But, oh, the fight sequences. "The Last Jedi" knows how to handle action well and the almost intimate set pieces of the movie allow the tension to boil like a pressure cooker up to an explosive and very exciting third act, which in all fairness could have been twenty minutes shorter.

So let's return to the question of who the movie was made for. If it was made for the die-hard fans, there are some sequences that I can see being anticlimactic or even annoying; but as the casual viewer, these moments will just be part of the grander spectacle the movie presents. I would agree that this is the least "Star Wars" feeling movie of the new films. The "Star Wars" movies are arguably the biggest movies ever made and Johnson realizes that. His movie is, at times, unapologetically weird but it is made for mass consumption and I don't think I can fault him for that. "The Last Jedi" was made for as many people as possible. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Disney didn't own the rights; but that's another story.

Score: ★★★

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