While the new trilogy should aim to appease long-time fans of the Star Wars universe, it must also appeal to the general audiences. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, while a decidedly good movie, was almost exactly like the original trilogy’s A New Hope. Although it succeeded in evoking nostalgia for people who have grown up with the movies, the film sacrificed an original plot and new characters in the process. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, on the other hand, doesn’t feature a Death Star, instead centering its story around a battle between the Resistance and First Order, with subplots expanding the story’s focus. While one may argue that this reduces the great scale of space that the originals explored, it gives the story a more grounded plot.
However, this movie did not come without its faults. Without divulging too much of the movie, the characterization of Luke has changed. Instead of the upbeat and hopeful Luke Skywalker we admired in the originals, this Luke is far more weary and downtrodden, to the point where he believes that the Jedi must end. It is interesting to note that Mark Hamill himself did not agree with Rian Johnson’s vision for the character. However, he still decided to play the iconic Jedi hero, and later called the movie “one of the all-time greats.” Additionally, Finn and Rose’s romance seems far too forced, as it developed over what is really around two days. This is disappointing, seeing how rare such an interracial couple is in movies. Instead of trying to force a romance onto such interesting characters, a friendship (for the time being) would have been more well-suited and would seem less out-of-place. The side plot involving Finn and Rose seemed unnecessary and (spoiler alert) actually impeded the mission. Entire events could have been avoided if there was better communication between the generals and the members of the Resistance. If the characters had ever addressed their reckless actions, I would be less critical, but in this film they simply hand-wave the fact that some of their crew literally died due to the negligence of members who believed that their leaders were doing nothing (when they actually were, but chose not to divulge that information for whatever reason). This makes parts of the film feel hollow and lessens the impact of the movie as a whole.
Yet, the film’s fixation on character development and the performances of the cast was what really cemented my love for it. The diversity of the cast cannot be understated: we have an Asian female, Kelly Marie Tran, the first woman of color to play one of the leads in a film franchise. Her character, Rose Tico, isn’t sidelined in favor of the other characters, but plays a major role in the story. Various women are shown to be in leadership roles, and actors of color also play major leading roles (John Boyega as Finn, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron). All of the characters are developed throughout this film, especially Rey, who receives training to be a Jedi Knight from Luke Skywalker. This film even dares to subvert the idea that there needs to be a great mystery surrounding the central character. Rey isn’t a hero because of some destiny she must fulfill or because of her bloodline. She’s a hero because that’s simply who she is. While this admittedly makes all of the build-up to her mystery parents unnecessary, it was a great twist that strengthened her character. Kylo Ren is a far more fleshed out “villain,” whose motives don’t revolve around the tired idea of “destroy the world just because.” Gone is the Kylo Ren who audiences laughed at when he took off his mask. Replacing him is a far more menacing yet sympathetic character that is much more engaging.
At one point of the movie, one of the characters says, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” Star Wars: The Last Jedi embodies this idea. It keeps parts of the Star Wars franchise that made fans fall in love with it in the first place: the interesting characters, amazing visual effects, and the classic tropes, but ultimately lets go of its past. The film seeks to stand on its own merit, and the end result is a film that will stay with you long after you leave the movie theater.
Picture credit: starwars.com