Star Wars: The Last Jedi sizzles with shock, awe, and fury


You could feel the energy coming out of the theater the moment the words “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appeared on the screen for The Last Jedi.

That energy may have even been coming from the person sitting next to you, hyperventilating in the movie theatre…or that was just me, sorry.  It never stopped, not even when the final credits started rolling and those in attendance began loudly and excitedly discussing everything that had just occurred in the last two hours and thirty-two minutes.

What just happened? Did [spoiler] really just do that? I didn’t know [spoiler] was actually [spoiler].

As you can see, I’m not going to give away any major details, and that’s a hard thing to do considering the number of surprises that Rian Johnson, writer/director of The Last Jedi, had tucked up his sleeves.

To be sure, Johnson (whose credits include Looper, Brick, and a few episodes of the TV show Breaking Bad), isn’t trying to blow up the saga and change everything you know and believe. No, he’s just trying to make a really good Star Wars movie, and though he succeeds, he does it very differently than J.J. Abrams and George Lucas, who relied more on special-effects wizardry than humor and innovation…and porgs.

It’s a situation that follows in the footsteps of Irvin Kershner, who directed the still best chapter in the saga, The Empire Strikes Back. This new trilogy needed its own rebel commander, someone who wasn’t intimidated by the daunting Star Wars legacy, and willing to take risks with a franchise that no one wanted messed with in the first place. With The Last Jedi, Johnson may have proven he, is in fact, strong with the Force

So where to begin? About where we left off after the end of The Force Awakens. The Resistance is reeling from a barrage of attacks led by the suddenly rejuvenated First Order. General Hux is mad about what went down with Starkiller Base, and his boss has more than a demotion in mind if he lets this feisty batch of rebels get away. Turns out that luck isn’t always on the good guys’ side.

In The Empire Strikes Back, a broken hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon was the reason there was even a film. It’s a little more complicated here, but just like before, our heroes can’t get out of the jam they’re in simply by pulling the magic levers in the cockpit.

It’s at this point that the movie slows down. The First Order has the Resistance cornered, but they can’t checkmate the King, or more accurately, the Queen, in this case, General Leia (played by the late Carrie Fisher), who proves herself to be the most powerful piece on the board. But even as the action stalls, there’s a side quest or two worth getting into.

Finn has taken it upon himself to break off from his comrades and go on a high stakes mission with an unlikely admirer, a zealous engine-room mechanic played by Kelly Marie Tran named Rose Tico. Their quest leads them to a lavish, morally bankrupt seaport city that resembles Mos Eisley at first glance, but don’t let your eyes deceive you. There’s a lot more hidden in this seedy town than just the decadent rich and famous.

Meanwhile, on a remote island light years away, Rey is on an impossible mission of her own, trying to get Luke Skywalker out of the funk he’s been in ever since his beloved nephew slaughtered his students and burned down his Jedi Academy.

While Luke is in some ways the same, drinking oddly-colored milk and staying away from dark caves, the adventurous, good-natured, womprat shooting farm boy turned rebel commander is now a surly curmudgeon with a cynical view of the galaxy and of the Jedi. He ‘s barely impressed when the precocious Rey demonstrates the extent of her powers -– though this may also be jealousy. Rey has gotten the hang of this Force thing a lot quicker than he did when he was being schooled by the wizened, Obi-Wan and Yoda.

It’s worth mentioning that despite all of his troubles, Luke has never forgotten his former master, heeding the words of Obi-Wan: “Yoda will always be with you.”

What makes the middle stanzas of the film so fascinating isn’t the chase sequences, cityscapes, or even the tawny, plump, absurdly cute penguins called porgs that inhabit Luke’s island sanctuary; it’s the telepathic bond that Rey shares with Kylo Ren, who’s no longer the temperamental, unhinged villain that smashed up monitors and control panels in The Force Awakens.

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

He wears the scars of his last battle without any wounded pride — shattering his helmet minutes after being taunted by Supreme Leader Snoke (played by mocap specialist Andy Serkis) — and he’s keen on using his mystical connection with Rey to explain that his choices and his actions are more a matter of circumstance than pure evil.

The relationship is reciprocal, as Rey discovers that her adversary can help her find the answers to she is and where she comes from. It also addresses the bantha that’s been in the room ever since Rey’s introduction into the story. What were the chances of BB-8 being rescued by someone with Force-wielding abilities that was seemingly destined to find Luke and save The Resistance?

Next to none actually, but that’s irrelevant. In the Last Jedi, Johnson illustrates something he explored in one of Breaking Bad’s most famous episodes: nothing is purely coincidence. Whether you believe it’s a higher power, the will of the Force or the Grand Unified Theory, the entire universe is mysteriously connected. The X-Wing Darth Vader was chasing down the Death Star trench was piloted by his son. Artoo and Threepio were sold to the same moisture farmers they encountered a generation ago in Attack of the Clones. Donald Trump was the president in one episode of The Simpsons. Eerie. And sometimes consequential.

Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Johnson may be carrying the torch passed to him by J.J. Abrams (he’ll hand it back to Abrams for Episode IX), but like all artists, he also seeks to leave his own mark on the canvas, and the brush he uses is red. While The Empire Strikes back was a fantasy captured entirely during blue hour, The Last Jedi is the reddest Star Wars movie you’ll ever see.

We see the color in the interior of Snoke’s throne room and on the armor of his royal sentries, a trail of red dust left by a squadron of landspeeders on Crait, and in the bright gambling lounges in the city of Canto Bight. This could be a reflection of all the rage, anger, corruption and betrayal, or maybe it’s just the film’s unusually high body count.

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It’s not just in colors though, that Johnson succeeds in vanquishing the main flaw of the new trilogy — borrowing too much from the original films. The frenetic pace and the multiple twists and turns that occur in the final 45 minutes are as far away from any Star Wars movie we’ve seen, with the exception of Revenge of the Sith. It makes you wonder how different the prequels could have been if Rian Johnson was at the controls.

Eventually, someone will do it, tear down everything that makes up a Star Wars film except for the opening crawl, blitz the audience with a series of shocking events and then end with something so twisted and lurid that it may forever change the way we look at movies. It could be Johnson, who’s been handpicked by Lucasfilm to helm his own separate trilogy, but this is more of a David Fincher kind of thing.

No matter who it is, everyone will be watching. The reason stories from that distant galaxy remain so fascinating is that regardless of whatever era it’s set in, time never stops moving forward. Heroes age and die, and new heroes are born and raised. Wars are fought and won and greater conflicts arise. Democracy thrives and then collapses into the night. It’s a universe that mirrors the world we live in: enigmatic, imperfect, and in this latest installment, captivating.

Next: Star Wars: The Last Jedi receives a Lukewarm fan response

Sean Galusha is a former Lucasfilm employee who was expelled for leaking Jedi secrets and stealing chocolate pretzels. He writes about Star Wars, sports, TV, and absurdity. He has a Twitter account no one follows at @seanmgalusha.