Second Sight: The Bravura of The Last Jedi

A Star Wars film is an event, not a movieThe Lucas Film logo emerges from darkness and cheers fill the theater, followed by the inevitable opening crawl.   The Force Awakens was a film steeped with nostalgia, giving fans everything they expected from the most regaled anthology in the history of cinema.  After the divisive Rogue One, all eyes turned to Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi.  Eschewing the heavy nostalgia of its predecessor, Johnson's film goes for the heart, delivering a plethora of epic set pieces while also channeling the ground level grandeur that made Rogue One memorable.  Featuring jaw dropping visuals, uncharacteristically gritty portrayals of war, and some of the saga's most gripping surprises, this is the entry fans have been waiting for.  

Rey seeks out Luke Skywalker, hoping to enlist him in the cause and gain a mentor in the Force.  Meanwhile, the remnants of the Resistance are being pursued by the relentless First Order fleet, forcing the rebels to make life and death choices while the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.  Johnson's script features many of his trademarks.  Brutal moral quandaries, multifaceted villains, and an uncompromising approach to the status quo.  However, it is also surprisingly funny at times, and above all, emotionally primed.  Even when scenes seem superfluous, everything eventually reveals a truth, a truth that is the heart of the franchise: The Light is Winning.  In one of the darkest times of modern American history, The Last Jedi reminds us why these films exist.  Its story inspires hope, laughter, and a mature understanding of the price of freedom.  While it is easy to thrust against the posts, understanding the cost, and learning, or more importantly, growing is essential, and Johnson's understanding of this concept is interwoven throughout.  

Mark Hamill returns to his iconic role as Luke Skywalker, delivering the performance of his career.  His Luke has grown tired, tormented by his failures and angry at destiny's inability to yield to his curmudgeon's viewpoint.  Daisy Ridley's turn as Rey is solid, but she is overshadowed by Adam Driver's complex embodiment of conflicted antagonist, Kylo Ren.  Evolving from the whiney heir apparent, Kylo is the most interesting character, keeping the audience guessing at every turn.  His hate-hate relationship with Domhnall Gleeson's Hux is outright hilarious, a totem of the Vader and subordinates’ trope of the original trilogy given life.  

Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron is given a chance to breathe and his character development is fundamental to Johnson's dogma.  Soldiers die in wars, but it is the understanding and application of this that defines leaders and Isaac's humanity is resplendent.  Laura Dern's supporting role as a high-ranking officer delivers one of the best scenes of the film.  John Boyega's Finn continues to fit awkwardly into the mythos, however, his scenes with newcomer Kelly Marie Tran are essential.  A common dissent has been with respect to their side plot, however, upon reflection, the elements of this plot, more than the result, are essential to the coda, setting the field for a universe unlike anything the audience has experienced before.  This is the influence of the street level humanity of Rogue One and the way it is latched onto the central narrative is masterful.  

Carrie Fisher's final performance is pure emotional bliss.  To expound would spoil, but it is a credit to her skill as an actress and Johnson's formidable talent as a director that her last time gracing the screen would fill us with pure, childlike awe.  Additionally, fan favorite characters Chewbacca, BB-8, R2-D2, and C-3PO all return and lend the expected comedic flourishes, with each character getting the perfect time to shine.  Benicio Del Toro joins the cast as a shadowy grifter who blends seamlessly into the universe.  While his role feels slightly perfunctory, he manages to open even more possibilities for the universe going forward.   Everything is highlighted by John Williams' thunderous score.  The expected riffs are amplified, doubling-down on the concept that this is a big film with big, memorable moments. 

Long time Johnson collaborator Steve Yedlin's cinematography is pure kinetics.  Iconic shot after iconic shot pepper the optics, flooding the screen with brilliant tableaus.  The red smoked showdown scene from the trailer is astonishing, while the space battles are framed with desperation.  There are several direct homages to the previous films that will both endear lifelong fans and inspire newcomers.  Every sequence has a distinct feel, the unavoidable impression of a lived-in world with rules, cultures, and ecology.  Luke's sanctum is lush, yet lonely, with each frame filled with unused space.  Higher populated environs are shot with bright colors and high movement, juxtaposing the upper echelons of profiteers with the down and out urgency of the Resistance.  The ashes of the past are everywhere, from abandoned planets to slyly blocked throne rooms.  The red soaked interior of Snoke's flagship is the centerpiece, delivering not only an unexpected amount of dread, but also the film's greatest sequence.  Destruction in motion is tricky thing to film, and Yedlin's steady application is masterful.


Ultimately, this is an excellent film that will divide film lovers and fans of the universe.  It's is undeniably good, but there are flaws.  This is a sprawling, dense film with dozens of pokers in the fire.  It mostly works, but there are imperfections throughout, however, it is these defects that only increase the film's charm.  One could look at the paragons of the franchise and recognize similar problems, but, much like family and friends, we embrace those flaws because they define those we love.  It is this reason, that The Last Jedi is one of the greatest entries into the series.  

In theaters now, Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi is a triumph.  Where The Force Awakens overstepped into retreading on the canon, Johnson's entry plums the depths of why the series is so beloved and delivers that magic in scene after scene.  Filled with heroism, despair, and outright crowd-pleasing fervor, this is the cinematic event of the year.  

-- Kyle Jonathan