** This is a SPOILER-FREE review **
Prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the pressure on Lucasfilm and Disney was palpable. Fans hadn’t seen a legit Star Wars movie since The Force Awakens‘ predecessor, Revenge of the Sith, which came out a decade earlier in 2005.
To match the sentiment, the feeling of Star Wars for the audience — both the hardcore members and the transient drop-ins — seemed a near-impossible task. How to capture that decades-old aesthetic onscreen without either cheapening the product, or even worse, killing it dead?
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The end result was a very familiar plotline in The Force Awakens, which, for the record, was widely considered a success, both at the box office and with fans. The plotline was so similar to Episode IV: A New Hope (1977), in fact, that the refrain “Haven’t I seen this before?” flashed across my mind’s eye on several occasions as the movie played out. It was a safe move by the powers-that-be, and ultimately the right one. Some fans may have felt cheapened by its sameness, but they couldn’t deny its membership in the Star Wars universe or the feelings that invoked.
Now, in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, while there are some familiar moments, this movie stands all on its own, the middle figure in the trilogy, offering a balance between beginning and end. For the first time in more than 10 years, excluding the spinoff Rogue One, we have an original, complex Star Wars story of love, betrayal, family and hope.
This isn’t like The Empire Strikes Back, is it?
While it would seem logical to hypothesize that this film would emulate the second movie in the original trilogy, The Last Jedi really strikes out on its own. There are storylines taking place simultaneously across the universe with a multitude of characters, old and new. The Last Jedi and Empire Strikes Back are not comparable, save for the fact they take place in the same “story.”
How many new characters and worlds do we see?
It’s tough to count, but suffice it to say there is a wealth of new characters and worlds. Nothing is more exciting to a tried-and-true Star Wars fan than swooping into a city on a far-off planet, replete with bizarre species and mysterious goings-on happening in every corner. The audience travels to many new planets and civilizations in The Last Jedi, each one like eye and mind candy. The jury’s still out on those porgs.
One particular aspect in The Last Jedi needs calling out, and that’s the front-and-centre push for diversity among the main characters. If the resonance of having multiple people of colour and many, many women in positions of power in The Last Jedi is felt by a white person, I can’t imagine how it feels for a POC. The best part about it is it looks and feels natural, as it should. Nothing feels shoehorned or forced. A big standout is Kelly Marie Tran as Rose, who, if you haven’t heard about already, is one of the most interesting characters in the movie.
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What about the old guard? How much do we see of them?
While there are a lot of new faces, rest assured you’ll be spending time with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca and the droids. Obviously, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are central to the story and are onscreen a lot. This is the beauty of The Last Jedi: it balances itself out. Instead of ticking boxes to please hard-to-placate fans, the story moves organically from past to present, floating deftly from one story to another, punctuated with great action and fight scenes.
Are there surprises?
Yes. So, so many. For fans and newbies alike.
So what’s the bottom line?
The idea of the Force in Star Wars mythology is simple: it is the ever-present energy that surrounds all of us, keeping the balance between good and evil. When one goes out of whack, the other does too. In terms of The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson has managed to keep that symbiosis intact. Neither pandering nor out-there in his approach, the end result is an enjoyable, action-filled movie, one that kids will love and longtime fans will revel in.
The Force is definitely strong with this one, and undoubtedly the box-office numbers will reflect that.
‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ opens in theatres across Canada on Dec. 15.