To say that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” faces high expectations is an understatement. Episode VII reawakened the spirit of the franchise with nostalgia and charisma. Any “Star Wars” film automatically can be dubbed the most anticipated of the year and the level of secrecy surrounding even the smallest details of the film has reached new heights.
Luckily, “The Last Jedi” is heartstoppingly good. From the moment the Lucasfilms logo shimmers into view, the film is a pure delight.
Trailers and promotional materials for “The Last Jedi” promise a more prominent role for Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker, and teases a potential parting of the ways for Rey and the Force. The latest addition to the universe has a new writer and director, Rian Johnson, and adds several new characters (and the now famous Porgs) to the cast. Episode VIII follows in the footsteps of “The Empire Strikes Back,” spending a lot of energy giving many characters action-packed plot arcs of their own that reconvene for the third act.
In contrast to “The Force Awakens”, which followed a relatively singular storyline, this installment follows three or four threads and throws together characters in new teams. This choice allows for some shining character development. Johnson gives interpersonal dynamics the time to breathe; a duo does not simply get thrown together and shunted from one action scene to another. Each team is given space to form the connections that plant emotional roots and build real investment in characters.
Rian Johnson’s greatest triumph in “The Last Jedi” is how it captures the real feeling of the franchise. Across decades, the music, the crawl and the first deep space shot elicits the same thrill. While the film keeps the strokes of nostalgia that connect it to the universe, it manages to shape itself in fresh ways that make every scene a much anticipated surprise. It also knows how to hit the familiar beats of a mission-based caper that the audience is used to, before pivoting to take the story on a fresh path. Mark Hamill’s return as Luke Skywalker (he has lines in this one!) is as triumphant as anticipated, and his ability to capture the cadence or look of the young Luke from the original trilogy is slightly eerie.
If I were to pick something to find flaw with in this move, it is that there is a lot going on. As someone who will likely see this movie in theaters three to five times, I liked this a lot. Every scene delivers so much detail and emotion that it begs to be revisited. There is also just a lot of raw plot to follow, a slight departure from the usually relatively straightforward stories in the universe. This might make it difficult for younger audiences (or even fully grown ones) to follow at times. And it is the longest film in the franchise at just over two and a half hours. Every minute is used to its fullest, but it never drags or stutters.
Overall, Episode VIII is just a really really good movie and a jubilant addition to the universe. It has been a long time since I experienced a movie so captivating that I was impatient to return to the theater to see it again. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is that movie.