Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth episode of the Skywalker Saga from writer-director Rian Johnson, can be boiled down to one simple word: dangerous.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a brilliant return to form that restored the franchise’s vitality after the ultimately disappointing prequel trilogy, fans were no doubt frustrated with Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams for what many felt was Disney playing it safe. But from the moment The Last Jedi begins until the credits roll, the film is as fresh as it is relentlessly unpredictable and jam-packed with jaw-dropping surprises that will leave you both shocked and speechless. The Last Jedi is one of the biggest, most ambitious films in the franchise yet that rivals The Empire Strikes Back for the top spot in the Skywalker Saga. Johnson delivers what is both a big-budget blockbuster and an arthouse film simultaneously, something he manages to do through expert direction and his unique, finesse for impeccable dialogue.
The new heroes of Star Wars — Rey, Finn, and Poe Dameron played by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac respectively — as well as the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the imposing Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and the menacing Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) all return. Ridley continues to shine as a charismatic and captivating force that commands the screen, while Boyega continues to represent Star Wars fanboys with his infectious enthusiasm as the First Order Stormtrooper-turned-defector who is now, in fact, a big deal within the Resistance. Isaac — who didn’t get to explore much depth with his character in Episode VII — is given an expanded and much more interesting role this time around as the Resistance’s top pilot is forced to discover solutions to problems that require more than just blowing something up.
In addition, The Last Jedi introduces a new hero to the sequel trilogy — Rose Tico, played by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran. Tran is a natural that instantly fits into the Star Wars universe as she provides both heart and levity to scenes with Boyega. Much of her screentime is shared with Boyega as Rose and Finn go on an adventure together in their own separate storyline.
On the villain’s side, Driver is given much more depth in The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren begins to grow here, becoming increasingly more unpredictable and difficult to read over the course of the film. It’s impossible to get deep into Kylo Ren’s storyline without spoiling anything but much in the way that The Force Awakens introduced new aspects of the force through Kylo, The Last Jedi does as well. As far as Supreme Leader Snoke goes, the character is finally featured beyond just a hologram with a powerful, and fearsome performance from Serkis that is much less Caesar from Planet of the Apes and much more Emperor Palpatine. Even some of Serkis’ lines echo lines from the Emperor. Fans hoping for more of Phasma might be disappointed, however, but her character is at least used much more effectively in The Last Jedi.
The film also features Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro in supporting roles as Vice Admiral Holdo of the Resistance, and DJ, a slicer (hacker) residing in the opulent Casino city Canto Bight on the planet Cantonica. The performances here don’t always work as Dern’s delivery of dialogue sometimes feels slightly off or out of place, and del Toro’s character speaks in a way that is somewhat distracting, but the two are ultimately complex and interesting additions that serve to teach our main characters important lessons that provide necessary growth to them. DJ also provides an entry point for the franchise to explore war itself in an interesting way that we haven’t seen before.
In her final performance, the late Carrie Fisher carries a heavy sadness after the loss of Han Solo (Harrison Ford) at the hands of her son, Ben. Fisher manages to inhabit and embody the character of Leia once again, something she came up a bit short on in The Force Awakens where she felt more like Fisher herself than she did Leia. Ultimately her performance in this film is greatly satisfying as Leia is given some of her best and most powerful moments in the franchise.
After returning as Luke Skywalker for the first time in thirty-two years for an extremely brief appearance without any dialogue in The Force Awakens, Mark Hamill finally gets his chance to shine this time around. Hamill’s performance in The Last Jedi is stellar as Luke is given a complex storyline which shows that behind the hero and the legend of Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Master is still a flawed man, capable of making serious mistakes that could have grave consequences. Based on new canon novels, we can gather that Luke has been in exile on the island of Ahch-To for quite a few years and he’s grown quite comfortable there. Luke’s storyline is nearly impossible to review without getting into spoilers but if you’re a fan of the original trilogy’s hero, you won’t be disappointed as The Last Jedi features some incredibly satisfying and shocking moments with Luke that serve to make him an even more interesting character.
For much of the film, The Last Jedi has you uneasy and on edge over the sheer unpredictable nature of the narrative, but at a certain point, Johnson pulls out the rug on the Star Wars universe. It’s liberating, terrifying, and beautiful all at the same time as it opens the doors to countless possibilities for both Episode IX and the future of the franchise to come.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits theaters this Friday, December 15.