“This isn’t going to go the way you think it is.”
Those words spoken by Luke Skywalker to his wannabe apprentice Rey loomed large in the early trailers for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and they seem to have been the guiding philosophy for everyone involved in the making of the movie. Whereas the previous installment, The Force Awakens, was a much-needed return to the familiar, The Last Jedi is a welcome jump into the unpredictable.
To be honest, it doesn’t seem that way right at the beginning. The movie opens with Leia’s resistance forces trying to evacuate their no longer secret base while the First Order rains fire down upon them. Meanwhile, Rey is off on a distant planet looking for help from the last living Jedi master. That sounds an awful lot like the same setup from The Empire Strikes Back, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does, but remember, this isn’t going to go the way you think it is. The opening battle, which is spectacular enough that it could easily pass for the climax of any other regular movie, doesn’t quite end on the triumphant note one would expect. Instead, it is made quite clear that the “hero” of the day still has a lesson or two to learn.
Of course, since this is a spoiler-free review, I’d rather not reveal which hero and what lessons, because it all has importance to the finale of the film and you really don’t want me to ruin that. Suffice to say that what goes for that character goes for all of the younger generation introduced in The Force Awakens. Rey, Fin, Poe, and yes, even Kylo Ren, all come to junctures that challenge their preconceived notions about who they are and force them to consider what kind of person they want to be. Yes, you read that right, this is an explosion filled blockbuster with honest-to-goodness character development in it.
There’s more than that, though, perhaps something even deeper. Whether he intended to or not all those years ago, George Lucas gifted us with one of the great generational sagas of our time with his creation of the Skywalker family. Over the past forty years, we’ve been with them as they’ve faced triumph and tragedy. Now, as Leia and Luke reach their twilight, the heroes of our youth are passing, and it’s both moving and inspirational to watch.
Make no mistake, while the young cast is excellent, this movie belongs to Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Leia has always been our princess, as one character in The Force Awakens noted, but here she is more. Fisher plays Leia as a matriarch who has seen much sorrow, but never wavered in her faith. She is poised and graceful as royalty should be, but always accessible to those in need, and it is to her the battered Resistance turns to again and again when things look their darkest. Our space princess forever, sure, but there’s also a touch of queen of Heaven this time around as well.
As for Luke, these may be his finest hours. It’s certainly a career highlight for Hamill, who simultaneously gives us a Luke Skywalker who is iconic and legendary, but also all too human. It is Luke’s story which is the most important one here, for it sets the tone for the whole film. If there is a central theme to The Last Jedi, it is that the younger generation needs and desires the lessons of the one that came before it. And not just the lessons of their successes, but their failures as well, for those are just as important. This isn’t a movie about the young replacing the old, but the young learning from and building upon the old, sometimes for the better, sometimes not.
As is obvious, I’ve said little about the story itself. Why ruin the fun? Without giving anything away, I will say that some questions are answered. You will find out what finally drove Kylo Ren to the dark side. You will learn about Rey’s parents. You will see Luke’s immediate response to being shown his old light saber. Be warned, though, it’s not going to go the way you think it is. In addition, you will love John Williams’ new score even more than you knew you would. And, yes, you will absolutely be smitten with the aggressively adorable Porgs. You just will, no matter how determined you are not to.
To be fair, the critic in me demands I point out that there are a few times where the movie drags a little, mostly during those parts where it is setting up story beats for the next installment. Frankly, though, who cares? It’s evident in every frame that writer/director Rian Johnson loves these characters as much as we do, and he has crafted a movie that shows us how much. I joked online right before the movie began that I’m starting to feel as if this series will outlive me. After watching this latest installment, I hope it does.