There was a lot of panic and commotion among the Star Wars community when George Lucas sold the property to Disney, but after seeing the way they allowed Marvel to continue making the movies they wanted, along with the disappointment of the prequel trilogy, I was excited to see the franchise in different hands.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was well received by both critics and audiences while absolutely destroying box office records. Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill all returned to their iconic roles, a new villainous regime was introduced and all was right with the world. There were some critical issues about the plot mirroring that of A New Hope, but in my opinion it was a thoughtful way to introduce a new generation of people to the universe while paying homage to the original saga instead of going for a remake. J. J. Abrams had revitalized Star Wars in the same way he had revitalized Star Trek six years prior and Disney was off to a good start.
The principal complaints about The Force Awakens were that it felt too familiar. That certainly wasn’t a problem with 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first live-action, non-episode film in the series and an overwhelming success. Rogue One left the family friendly adventure aspect behind in favor of a gritty war film that was both visually stunning and emotionally impactful. The only real issues with this film came from the “that’s not my Star Wars” set of fans, and there’s really no pleasing them anyway. While it’s not my favorite of the series, I do consider it to be the best overall and Disney’s presence was only felt in the marketing.
This year, we go back to the Episode timeline with the apparently divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has been a hit with critics but has left audiences split. This divide is a bit mind boggling to me, as I walked out of the theater convinced it would be impossible for anyone to not enjoy the spectacle that is The Last Jedi. The film manages to combine the best of both The Force Awakens and Rogue One to encapsulate a narrative that has fun, but still feels consequential. There’s a lot of risk taken here by director Rian Johnson and it all pays off tremendously.
The plot of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a busy one, with most of the main characters involved in separate story lines across the galaxy. While necessary, one of the few complaints I have is that the chemistry between characters established in The Force Awakens is mostly wasted by not having them share screen time. The positive is that all of the individual stories are engaging, though I won’t get into any specifics as I managed to see The Last Jedi without watching so much as a trailer in advance, and it made the viewing experience that much better as I was not at all prepared for the vast difference in tone.
One of the things I absolutely adored is the character progression between films. Often times franchises introduce traits in the original that are simply replicated over and over throughout the duration. The Force Awakens introduced new main characters in reluctant heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), a fearless pilot in Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the show stealing BB-8, and the villainous, yet conflicted, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). It was impressive that these new faces were able to carry their sections of the film when people had been waiting 30 years to see Han, Luke and Leia back on the big screen. The Last Jedi does a marvelous job in taking those characters and building on them, a difficult task considering the frantic nature of the plot.
Adam Driver deserves special recognition, as his performance is truly top notch. Over the past decade we’ve endured a seemingly endless assembly line of one-note comic book villains (Loki and Magneto- that wasn’t meant for you) and it is downright refreshing to have a central antagonist with depth. Kylo is unable to control his emotions, always on the razor’s edge between outburst and breakdown. Driver captures it all with wide-eyed anxiety that allows the audience to empathize with a character they most assuredly hate.
I’ve heard many comparisons between The Last Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back, but that’s a disservice to both films. If there’s any common ground, it’s that The Last Jedi is a truly original entry that pushes the franchise in an exciting direction in much the same way that The Empire Strikes Back did in the original trilogy. Next year, Star Wars will be taking things in a new direction again with a project centered around a young Han Solo, and while I’ll be first in line for that, my anticipation for Episode IX is already at a X.
Lastly, R.I.P. Carrie Fisher. Thank you for all of the amazing Star Wars memories.
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