Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (8 out of 10)
"I need someone to show me my place in all of this."
I can't think of too many products of any kind that have been as iconic, prolific, and ingrained in popular culture as Star Wars. When the first Star Wars film debuted way back in 1977, a lot of people, including some of the cast, thought it was just a ridiculous sci-fi film created by some young, relatively unknown filmmaker named George Lucas. Alec Guinness, who played Obi Wan Kenobi, was pretty open about his dislike of the script and the "bloody awful, banal lines." Little did he or anyone else know, Star Wars would go on to become a multi-billion dollar, multi-media, mega-franchise, spawning two sequels over the next six years, along with numerous books, games, toys, etc. over the next few decades. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo, among many other iconic characters, became a part of the public conscious. Despite the many other products and forms of media released after 1983's after Return of the Jedi, fans still thirsted for more films, and George Lucas was inspired to bring to life a prequel series that told the story of how things led up to the original film. So in 1999, Lucas released Episode I: The Phantom Menace, along with Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, over the next six years. Despite making millions of dollars, the prequel series was largely panned and loathed by audiences and critics alike, relying too much on CGI, poorly written characters, bad acting, and a lack of the genuine spirit of the original trilogy. The franchise, despite still being insanely popular, was at a crossroads of sorts. That is, until the Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm for over $4 billion dollars in 2012 and immediately announced the development of a new film trilogy, that would tell the story of what happened after Return of the Jedi. In 2015, Disney and Lucasfilm released Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Despite its flaws and the very safe writing and direction by J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens brought back much of the fun, joy, spirit, and great characters of the original trilogy, and made nearly $1 billion in the U.S. alone. Star Wars, as a film franchise, was back in high gear. The following year brought the first of the Star Wars Anthology films, Rogue One, a telling of the events leading right up to the beginning of the first film. Rogue One was also very successful and largely praised by fans and critics alike.
Once again, a year later, Disney and Lucasfilm bring us back to the main Skywalker storyline with Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Following soon after the events of The Force Awakens, TLJ continues the story of Rey, Poe, Finn, while also bringing back Carrie Fisher's Leia and Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker. Directed and written by the relatively unknown Rian Johnson, TLJ is in many ways a departure from the Star Wars films we've seen before, and it works, oftentimes incredibly well. Featuring numerous twists and turns, surprises, a large dose of humor that (mostly) works, and many crowd-pleasing moments, The Last Jedi is a breath of fresh air for many who found The Force Awakens to be, while fun and enjoyable, a bit too derivative of the original trilogy. Johnson takes chances in this film, and largely succeeds. It doesn't hurt that the cast is stellar once again, especially Mark Hamill (giving quite a different take on Luke Skywalker this time around). His moments on screen are among the best in the film. The rest of the cast, including Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, are fantastic as well. The story certainly kept me on my toes and guessing as to what would happen next, something I didn't experience with The Force Awakens, or most of the other Star Wars films. Rian Johnson brought creativity that, while some might find polarizing, I found to be much-needed for the franchise. Yet while there are numerous, positive aspects to the film, I did have some mild criticisms. First of all, I felt the film went on far too long. Clocking in at two and a half hours, TLJ could have used some more time in the editing room, as I felt quite a few scenes could've been trimmed, particularly one scene about halfway through the film involving a casino-like resort. Also, while it looks great in many ways, there are several moments in the film where the special effects were distractingly poor, especially for Industrial Light and Magic, who usually put out stellar work.
That being said, these are minor flaws in what is another stellar entry into the Star Wars film franchise. Continuing the fun and enjoyment of what made Star Wars the monster franchise that it is, while bringing something new to the table thanks to Rian Johnson's clever, surprising script, The Last Jedi is sure to please many hardcore Star Wars fans and plenty of casual moviegoers as well. Disney certainly has the franchise heading in the right direction, and has me excited about what's next. I give Star Wars - Episode VIII: The Last Jedi an 8 out of 10.
- Ryan Zeid