Luke Skywalker returns, but in what capacity in the 8th installment in the landmark Star Wars Saga?
Pro – Wonder twins
The film is full of great actors and great performances. Everyone you liked from the last film, you’re going to enjoy even more. That said, special mention has to go to Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker and Carrie Fischer’s General Leia. Hamill is outstanding as an aged, self-exiled Skywalker and pays off the fan disappointment of his being all but absent from The Force Awakens.
There is a sort of poetic symmetry that one can read (maybe too much) into the life and careers of Hamill and Skywalker, and it felt like Hamill didn’t have to reach too far to connect with this version of Luke. Of course, the death of Carrie Fischer this past year gave her role special significance, but even on its own merit, she was great. She played General Leia with a warmth, determination, and burden that really lent the character and movie depth.
Pro – It binds all things
The Last Jedi is outstanding in that it really is able to tie together many of the loose threads from The Force Awakens, but also from the entire movie franchise. Star Wars comes with an incredible amount of baggage. The series contains some of peoples’ favorite and least favorite movies of all time. In addition, they span forty actual years of filmmaking. This puts a real burden on new entries into the series.
The Last Jedi’s brilliance is that it embraces all the films in a way that feels like it draws the previous seven movies together. There are smart and meaningful callbacks to the canon of the previous films. It doesn’t shy away from many of the burning questions left in The Force Awakens. You won’t leave with all the answers, but you will feel like there was a payoff for two years of wonder and online debate.
Pro – Clearing the board
The best part of The Last Jedi is that it moves the story along and thus is able to clear the board for future films. While it is awesome seeing our old heroes in the galaxy far, far away, it has also felt very restricting to where the story could go and what it could be.
In that vein, it would have been easy for The Last Jedi to simply be a “re-skinned” version of The Empire Strikes Back. Everything was set up to go down that road. Director Rian Johnson knew this, played with it, and then broke free and made a film that feels like its own. In the process, he pulled the universe to a new and exciting place.
Some people may not like how certain plot threads or characters are handled, but there is no denying that this film puts the universe in a place of freedom. This movie ends in a spot where it feels like the next film (or films) could be a dozen different story lines, and that is real power of The Last Jedi.