by Myke Olsen
As wonderful as The Force Awakens is, as a film it did not take many risks. Many plot points are recycled, for example, Rey and Finn must return BB-8 to Poe and the Resistance; Rey and Finn receive help from Han Solo, an older mentor-type figure; the Resistance undertakes to destroy the First Order’s Starkiller Base. Sounds a bit like A New Hope, doesn’t it?
Despite playing it safe, The Force Awakens was a perfect re-entry to the Star Wars universe. That said, it was important for Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, to take risks in order to keep this portion of the Star Wars Saga engaging and fun to watch.
The Last Jedi, thankfully, is a far braver film than The Force Awakens, even if not all of the gambles succeed.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Knowing that Carrie Fisher passed away a year ago — The Last Jedi is appropriately dedicated to her memory — I was curious to see if Leia would survive the film. When the First Order attacks the bridge of the Resistance cruiser and Leia is sucked out into space, I was surprised to see her meet her demise so early in the film. I was sad to see her go, especially without having reconnected with Luke. But I was so engaged in the movie that I quickly let it go. So, what happened next caught me off guard entirely.
A scene or two later, we see Leia’s lifeless body suspended in space. I supposed the purpose of this scene was to show that she had indeed left us. But suddenly her fingers twitch. Her eyes open. She reaches out her arm. A moment later she is flying through space! Poe’s reaction to Leia’s resurrection matched my own: my mind was blown! What did I just see?! We’ve seen some of Leia’s Force sensitivity in other films, but nothing of this scope. On my second viewing, I found this sequence a little hard to believe. Regardless, it is awesome to see a beloved character display far greater power than I ever suspected. Also, no surprise, John Williams scored that scene perfectly. Overall, I loved Carrie Fisher’s performance and presence throughout this movie. She is sorely missed.
Another shock was to see Snoke meet his end about halfway through the movie. My subconscious expectation mirrored the finale of Return of the Jedi: at some point in Episode IX, Kylo Ren would defeat Snoke in some way that would attempt redemption for Ren. I was bummed to see Snoke go so quickly because, even in his brief scenes, he quickly became one of the best things about The Last Jedi (shout out to Andy Serkis, the motion capture king). That said, I quickly forgot about Snoke during what might be one of the best sequences in all of Star Wars: Rey and Kylo Ren battling Snoke’s Praetorian Guards.
The way the movie plays out, it’s easy to believe that Ren killed Snoke solely to usurp Snoke’s Supreme Leader mantle. But I also believe he did it because he wanted to save Rey. I’m excited to see how their relationship plays out in the next film.
The Force Awakens created a great deal of suspense surrounding Luke Skywalker and amplified Luke’s legend status. For better or worse, it created a lot of pressure for Luke’s role in The Last Jedi. I can understand Luke’s desire to go into hiding. The shame he felt at deciding the fate of his nephew, along with the destruction of his Jedi temple, would be a heavyweight for anyone to carry. I’m glad Rey came along, however, to put an end to Luke’s hermitage. His scenes at the end of the movie were some of my favorite. I loved seeing him reconnect with Leia. And his duel with Kylo Ren, however too short, was a demonstration of the true power of the Force.
Just for a second, let’s revisit Attack of the Clones. I know, I’d rather not either, but bear with me. Remember when Dooku said, “It is obvious that this contest cannot be decided by our knowledge of the Force… but by our skills with a lightsaber” — as if it to say that the skills of a fully-trained Jedi Master ended at one’s ability to handle a lightsaber. In this moment, George Lucas shortchanged Yoda and Dooku, big time. Certainly, at least Yoda’s knowledge and power of the Force transcended lightsaber battle (as much as I do love a good lightsaber battle). Appropriately, Luke did not need a lightsaber or even to be physically present to best Kylo Ren and The First Order.
The Last Jedi took other risks too. The movie made more attempts of humor than the classic trilogy, and some of the jokes did not land (although I do have to mention how much I loved Poe “tooling” with Hux at the beginning of the film). And I expect some fans were disappointed with Rey’s parentage. I was happy with it since I think Rey is a Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi, or even a Palpatine would have convoluted the film. Furthermore, Rey’s ordinary origins make her more relatable. Not all aspects of the plot worked, either. While I loved their relationship, Finn and Rose’s side trip to Canto Bight felt unnecessary.
Not all of the risks of The Last Jedi paid off. But the film’s ambition, its ability to take characters new places, make it a great, worthy addition to the Star Wars saga.
My final ranking: 8.5/10
Where The Last Jedi sits with the other films, in order of how much I enjoy them:
Empire Strikes Back, The Force Awakens (tie)
The Last Jedi
Return of the Jedi
A New Hope
Revenge of the Sith
The Phantom Menace
Attack of the Clones