By Grant Stoner | Staff Writer
After the uninspiring debut of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I became fearful for one of my favorite movie franchises. Sure, Episode VII was entertaining, but it did little to differentiate itself from the original films. Thankfully, Rian Johnson’s artistic direction in The Last Jedi creates an entertaining cinematic experience, one that I thoroughly enjoyed throughout its 2-hour-and-35-minute showing.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the eighth entry in the long-running sci-fi series, acting as a seamless continuation of events that transpired within its predecessor. Following a successful assault led by the Resistance, the First Order mounts a counterattack which encompasses the entirety of the movie. From a storyline perspective, Episode VIII highlights the ever-growing presence of evil, especially as the First Order ascends to power. With the Resistance on the run, the neo-Empire seeks to finally take command of the entire galaxy. The plot breaks no new ground — with many of its thematic influences heavily borrowed from The Empire Strikes Back — but it’s the development of the cast of characters where Episode VIII stands out.
Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher, for example, reprise their roles as the Skywalker twins, Luke and Leia, with the vast majority of the film focusing on their duties as leaders. Luke, despite his numerous hesitations, still teaches the ways of the Force, while Leia commands the remaining troops of the Resistance. In spite of the fact that the siblings are separated across the galaxy, both heroes’ missions are ostensibly the same: to curb the rise of darkness and despair. Luke attempts to quell the fear within Rey, while Leia acts as a beacon of hope for her soldiers. It became an absolute pleasure to watch these two iconic heroes interact with the latest generation of the Star Wars crew.
Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver also return to the series as Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren respectively, bringing with them their amusing quirks and mannerisms. Throughout the first half of the film, each character behaves similarly to an obnoxious child failing to learn from past mistakes. Whether it be through an obstinate determination to understand incredible powers, becoming legendary heroes or an intense fear of being too weak, every character is afraid of failure.
And this is where Johnson triumphs.
With the majority of Star Wars films, individuals rarely, if ever, fail to complete their mission. Anakin Skywalker becomes the most powerful Force user, Luke saves his father and dismantles the Empire and the Rebellion brings hope to a restored galaxy. As a result, each movie becomes a predictable, albeit entertaining, piece, where little characterization is displayed. For the first time as a Star Wars fan, I was completely baffled as the movie unfolded.
Everyone — and I mean everyone — fails at one point in this movie. Under normal circumstances, constant failure would lead to a pretty dismal film. Yet, since failing is such an anomaly within the Star Wars universe, it became exhilarating to see how characters would react. Confidence is shattered, moments of doubt flood the minds of these powerful beings and for once, these intergalactic space warriors seem human.
And with the sense of empathy lies the accomplishment of Episode VIII. While it’s exciting for fans to imagine themselves as the heroes and villains of the Star Wars franchise, it’s virtually impossible to fully relate to these unique characters. No one can use the Force, wield blasters or lightsabers or soar through the galaxy in a starship. But, audience members can experience the same emotions that consistently affect these characters. Everyone has experienced failure, and everyone can truly understand Rey, Luke or Kylo Ren.
The Last Jedi successfully breaks the mold that consistently plagued the franchise for over four decades. With the capability to relate to the emblematic cast, the series no longer lives within a galaxy far, far away. Despite the awesome powers of each individual, audience members can finally begin to emulate the emotions of their idols.