This is no joke, friends. What follows will be an incredibly SPOILER-FILLED, SPOILER-DISCUSSING review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. This is intended only for people who've already seen the movie or people who really don't care about being spoiled. If you haven't seen the movie and do care about being spoiled, then may we point you toward our completely spoiler-free review? There's a lot of great stuff to discuss about the actual plot and character development in the movie but we want to make sure people get the chance to see it first.
Okay, are you still with us? Then let's go!
Last chance to pull out, Red Leader...
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been garnering speculation about the future of its characters pretty much since the moment the earliest screenings of The Force Awakens ended. The questions have only grown more pressing since the announcement of The Last Jedi title, not to mention with each subsequent piece of promotional material. Indeed, we entertained theory after theory about what would or could or should happen in the next adventure in that galaxy far, far away. As we know now, Rian Johnson sought to answer just about every one of those plot threads left dangling by J.J. Abrams, and he did so by redefining what "Jedi" actually means, and what the Force and its wielders can do.
Up to now, we've seen users of the Force influence the minds of weak-willed fools, commune with the past and see the future, and "make rocks float," but one of the great things about Johnson's take on the material is that he widened its scope. Force users in The Last Jedi can communicate across lightyears of space, can send seemingly fully corporeal projections of themselves equally far distances, and even propel themselves through the vacuum of space. The first instinct from fans might be, "What?! We didn't know they could do that." And that's precisely the point. I don't want to know everything the Force can do already.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), General Leia (Carrie Fisher), Rey (Daisy Ridley), Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) each show us things we didn't know the Force was capable of. Luke may have wanted the Jedi to end, but that doesn't mean the Force stops growing or surrounding and binding us. We see just how powerful each of these characters is, and, in the case of Snoke, how that power led to hubris which led to his ultimate defeat at the hands of his apprentice, clouding the mind of his master to his true intention.
We'd been speculating about Rey and Kylo's connection, and whether, in lieu of Luke accepting Rey as a pupil, she'd find a teacher in Kylo. We also wondered if Luke or Rey (or both) would turn full evil, and conversely if Kylo would turn good. The Last Jedi addressed all of these possibilities beautifully. These mysteries remain alive for much of the film's runtime, and Luke's complete abandonment of the Jedi and even closing himself off to the Force makes his all the more mysterious.
We see his what happened to his Jedi Academy, and are shown his confrontation with Ben Solo in three different ways. We see a hint of Luke's memory of Ben destroying the hut as he looked on in horror. We see the same memory, but from Ben's perspective, which read his trusted uncle Luke as an assassin come to murder him as he slept. And finally, we get the whole truth: Luke confesses to Rey that he had a brief moment of darkness when he considered killing his nephew for the good of the galaxy, which he immediately regretted, but not before the damage was done.
Though Rey sets out with the benevolent mission to turn the conflicted Kylo to the light side, there's so much raw power and pain in Rey that Luke and Kylo both see that she has the capability of great darkness. But the film sets up (as was reflected in the previous season of Star Wars Rebels as well) that the Jedi and the Sith are two parts of a balanced equation, that you cannot have darkness without light. Snoke mentions this specifically, that he knew for Kylo to have such dark side energy, there'd have to be an equal counterpart on the light side.
For a brief moment, in the movie's standout action scene (possibly the best scene in the whole movie), we see what a formidable team they would make, effing up a roomful of Snoke's impressive gladiator-like guards. It's a partnership all too brief, for while Rey (and I) thought maybe this meant Ben Solo had turned to the light side, Ben saw it differently.
The Solo-turned-Ren seized this moment as an opportunity to gain power and bring Rey over to the dark side. But neither wish came true; the conflict in Ben Solo is all but gone and his hatred has taken over again, and despite Rey's own anger, she could never turn to the dark side. They're destined to be enemies. And in the same moment, all of the speculation about Rey's parentage is answered: she's a nobody, born to a pair of nobodies who just ran off and left her on Jakku for no good reason.
I got a split-second of disappointment at this revelation. "That's it? She's not a Skywalker? Or a Kenobi, or any of the other billion possibilities we thought it might be?" But Johnson has Kylo call this out. He essentially tells her she doesn't have a part in this family drama we've seen unfold for seven films. And yet we know, and Luke knows, that she absolutely does have a part to play, and it doesn't matter if she's part of a lineage of strong-with-the-Force people. ANYBODY can be a Jedi now, as we see the little boy from Canto Bight possessing both innate Force abilities and a spark of Rebellion in his heart. The Force is for everybody, and any ol' nobody can save the galaxy.
It was pretty roundly accepted that the title The Last Jedi referred to Luke but we now know it simply referred to the last Jedi specifically taught via the Jedi Order. As Yoda appears to Luke as he almost brings himself to burn the first Jedi temple, the pint-sized Force Ghost says it is in fact time to let the Jedi end, but only the Jedi as we've known them so far. When Luke has his final, super badass confrontation with Kylo, he says he is not indeed the last hero to use the Jedi teachings, but he might be the last official Jedi, which, great! Get away from pomp and circumstance.
The Last Jedi was about establishing the new normal for the franchise. Johnson is already committed to telling new stories in a new trilogy of films, and this movie set that possibility up in a big way. The First Order has won, and has all but reestablished itself as the new Empire, and the Resistance (which was initially set up as a covert, sanctioned-but-unsanctioned task force by the New Republic to stop the First Order) is in tatters and it's up to people to reform a Rebellion. So by the end of The Last Jedi, we have a new main bad guy in Kylo, a new (although let's face it, she was pretty much this already) main hero in Rey, and a new generation of freedom fighters and Force-wielders.
If The Force Awakens was about reestablishing what people loved about Star Wars, The Last Jedi is about setting up what they're going to love about the films going forward. And for a 40-year-old franchise to keep us guessing like that, it's as welcome as a cool glass of blue milk.
4.5 Force Ghosting burritos out of 5