Monday, December 18, 2017

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Note: The following review contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

As per Disney’s current Star Wars schedule, The Last Jedi, the heavily anticipated follow-up to 2015’s The Force Awakens, has hit theaters. In an interesting turn of events, The Last Jedi was written and directed by Rian Johnson as opposed to J.J. Abrams, although the latter will return to direct the still-unnamed Episode IX. In honor of this blog’s seventh anniversary, and the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, here are our thoughts on whether or not Episode VIII could live up to the expectations set by Episode VII, based on a viewing at the Arclight Cinerama Dome in 3D.

As of The Force Awakens, the First Order has assumed control over the galaxy and the rebellion, led by Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), is on the run. As they try to plan an escape and an opportunity to regroup, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has met up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to try and convince him to help the rebels in their efforts. Meanwhile, the First Order’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is emotionally conflicted about himself and his place in the Order.

From there we hit spoiler territory, which we will avoid for now for the sake of those who have yet to see this film. What I can say is that the story makes some very bold choices with its plot that seem to hit and miss, as well as create a number of plot holes. The film makes a strong effort to largely ignore Episodes I-III, most noticeably ditching the concept of midi-chlorians in favor of restoring the spiritual context of the Jedi Order and the concept of the Force. While this certainly works in the film’s favor, there are certain plot points that seem pretty contrived or mess with the continuity by cutting off threads dangling from The Force Awakens that didn’t have time to fully develop. To consider the aforementioned bold choices understandably divisive would be enough to say without going into a more spoiler-ridden play-by-play.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has a much larger role this time around.

With that out of the way, the acting is superb. Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver and John Boyega deliver improved performances this time around, as they seem to be getting more comfortable in their respective roles as Rey, Kylo Ren and Finn. Mark Hamill does an excellent job in his portrayal of Luke Skywalker, a character given a suspenseful air of mystery in the ending of The Force Awakens. His interactions with both the older and newer cast show that he can still play the part well after all this time.

Perhaps the most notable cast member is Carrie Fisher, who managed to film all of her scenes for this film before her untimely death. While it remains to be seen how the role of Leia Organa will affect the franchise going forward, Fisher gave an emotionally powerful performance that suited the state of her character. She is given an appropriate dedication during the end credits.

Apart from the acting, the action was very engaging, including the inevitable lightsaber fights, and the special effects were well-done. The use of CG felt downplayed outside of the space battles and the practical effects, including one very surprising application, helped make each world more immersive. The lighting was also very effective in setting the mood or tying with the emotional core of certain scenes. In the case of our viewing, the 3D was also used to great effect. However, we would like to note that the color red, which is featured prominently on the theatrical poster, is also used prominently throughout the film.

The adorable Porgs fit in very well with the Star Wars universe.

In spite of its numerous plot holes and bold plot developments, The Last Jedi is a good movie. It’s not bad like the Prequel Trilogy, but it feels more like the Sequel Trilogy’s equivalent to Return of the Jedi (1983). There are some good emotionally powerful moments and the plot is engaging with some great action and special effects. You may or may not want to watch it again right away, but it’s still worth watching at least once, especially if you’re a fan of Star Wars.

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