Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

“Let the past die. Kill it. If you have to.”

The very day that finalized Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the so called Disney-mageddon that will signal the mouse house’s total domination of all entertainment, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, Darth Walt’s third overall SW film since their acquisition of the brand and the second in their “third trilogy” hit theaters, the direct follow up to 2015’s almost universally beloved The Force Awakens.

Aside from Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver, imposing as ever [“shredded” according to the guy behind me] and still the best) shattered confidence and resolve the First Order seems completely unfazed following the destruction of its Starkiller Base at the climax of TFA, pursuing the remnants of Princess Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher, a warm and gracious presence until the end, in a much expanded role) Resistance movement across the galaxy and picking off her forces one by one despite heavy losses of their own at the hands of reckless and impulsive ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac, again, with much more to do and absolutely killing it).

Elsewhere, we pick up right where we left off with Rey (Daisy Ridley, settling nicely into being the anchor of the biggest film franchise ever), having located Luke Sykwalker (fantastic in a far cry from the glorified cameo his role in TFA was, see a pattern here?) in exile to seek both his help with the Resistance’s plight and her own mysterious connection to the force.

For those who complained about gun for hire J.J. Abrams’ slavish devotion to A New Hope in The Force Awakens, Looper director Rian Johnson proves to be the daring auteur Irwin Kirshner to Abrams’ “play it safe” Lucas in The Last Jedi, delivering a singularly unique, dark and at times wonderfully strange take on the classic space opera formula. Rey and Ren’s connection deepens, spurned by legitimate genius Andy Serkis’ uncomfortably devious Supreme Leader Snoke, as the daring do-or-die heroism of Poe, John Boyega’s returning good hearted goofball Finn and equally charming newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose (and of course BB-8) in the face of certain doom gives off definite Empire Strikes Back vibes.

Innovative staging brings about the series’ (hell, the genre’s) biggest and most epic space battles ever, with mind blowing set pieces never before attempted. Audacious, esoteric production design informs the salt covered red vistas of Crait and nefarious casino planet Canto Bight. Cameos from both cherished series characters and well liked genre actors (that I won’t dare spoil here) slip in surprising yet naturally, and the nuts and bolts of plot mechanics both big and small ratchet tension so efficiently as to call to mind stone cold sci fi classics like Terminator 2 and the original Blade Runner.

But it’s the human element that most drives home the success of modern Star Wars under Disney’s tutelage, and for those of us who survived what passed for “acting” and “character development” in Lucas’ abhorrent prequels that continues to be the most bafflingly rewarding aspect of the series’ revival. Adam Driver’s performance here is a nuanced master class of heartbroken regret, deft enough to avoid the petulant childishness that handicapped Hayden Christensen’s similar failed attempt, and Daisy Ridley, less the figurative and more the literal orphan, is all drive and determination on the precipice of finally finding somewhere to belong. Believing in these characters makes all the colorful, awesome, cool and badass window dressing around them ancillary, and elevates The Last Jedi from any obvious multi million dollar blockbuster marketing aspirations and into a true dramatic triumph.

And so continues Disney’s dreaded so-called monopoly on genre entertainment, and the pointless doomsaying to go along with it. Disney may now own you and everything you care about (Warner Bros. should just give DC to them out of pity for the fans they have left) but as long as they keep making movies this fucking good fans shouldn’t have any reason to complain, not that that’s ever stopped them before. In a year where Spider-Man was officially welcomed into the MCU fold and a Thor adventure emerged that pretty much everyone can finally agree on, The Last Jedi may be the best live action genre picture that Disney has yet produced, period. And that’s one hell of an accomplishment.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.
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