Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is instantly a top Star Wars film because it continues the original story of Luke Skywalker. If you're like me, you've been waiting to get here. Forget the dazzling display of lasers, the technical fireworks that'll leave you breathless. Forget the weird alien creatures, revolting and adorable, the all-in performances of the all-star cast, and the speed. Man. The breakneck pace of this movie will rock you. If it was 152 minutes, I wanted 152 more. But, forget all that. This is about Luke, and also Leia, and how weirdness is king.
I fear the further away we get from original trilogy territory, the further my heart will get from Star Wars. That's why Luke's tale is important to me. The sequel to 2015's The Force Awakens (which was frustratingly short on Skywalker), The Last Jedi picks up where its predecessor left off. Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) are leading the Resistance against General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and the First Order. Finn (John Boyega) is in stasis, but about to wake up. Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by Andy Serkis) is giving Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) hell for losing to a girl. And the girl, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is trying to convince Luke (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force.
While Luke recognizes Rey's immense power, he remains eternally grief-stricken over the destruction of his Jedi temple years earlier. Rey wants to know her place in "all of this" and she pushes for the master/student dynamic while taking what she can get. Luke revisits his past and struggles with whether or not to teach this new apprentice. It's fun seeing Luke, once a downy innocent, transformed into a curmudgeon. Hamill gives old Luke a wild-eyed intensity usually reserved for the homeless. He wears the hood well enough, but he's no Alec Guinness.
The failed hero is a new spin on the monomyth for Star Wars. The fact the hero is pushing 70 is another twist. There's no great awakening for Luke. He's content to die alone on the island of Ahch-To. Like Obi-Wan in the original Star Wars, Luke is back to help, but he's also back to finish the undone chapters of his life.
While Luke's tale needs the closure The Last Jedi provides, the opposite is true of Rey's journey. Once a hopeful kid behind hopeful eyes in The Force Awakens, Rey is now fully grown-up. She hasn't realized the potential of her powers, but her maturity is light years beyond the first film. She knows her story is her own to be written and she's resolute in making that happen. Rey is fearless, an all-time movie heroine.
While Luke and Rey headline the main plot along with Snoke and Kylo Ren, writer/director Rian Johnson masterfully includes enough of the dozens of ancillary characters to allow each one to shine. Poe and Finn are both galactic cowboys worthy of applause for their exploits in separate cockpits. Isaac and Boyega are the true successors to Harrison Ford. They're brash, stupid, totally heroic, and totally capable of making you fist pump the air. Watch for them in action films for the next 20 years. And BB-8 is amazing. He does things you'd never expect a beach ball to do.
Rightfully, Chewbacca has his moments, particularly a hilarious one over dinner with the Pokémon-esque Porgs (above in photo). He's the one original character that should never die. (I'm still holding out hope for a movie set on Kashyyyk.) Gleeson deserves special mention for his work as Hux. He makes for a hilarious camp villain. Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and DJ (Benicio Del Toro) are all new characters that fit in seamlessly. The chrome storm trooper, Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) gets her time to shine. They even uninvited Maz Kanata, the worst character in Episode VII, who's only seen briefly.
And, of course, Carrie Fisher's presence should be special to every Star Wars fan. She brings gravitas to her final performance as Leia that wasn't there in The Force Awakens. She also finds her sense of humor, something the entire movie has on the other sequels.
The Last Jedi is probably the funniest Star Wars installment since the original. From the creature designs (Total Recall fans will howl) to the straight up joke writing, the film is surprisingly light, considering how dark it gets. Some of the comedy also flows from the structure of the movie and how Johnson and his team edit certain shots. It's a blurry genre mashup and it all works. Star Wars has always been weird, and Johnson embraces that weirdness. At the risk of spoiling too much, there are some bold creature designs at work in The Last Jedi and they're all worthy of George Lucas' universe. Two of those designs (the porgs and the crystal foxes seen in the trailer) are especially fantastic.
There's a lot of fantastic stuff in The Last Jedi. Too much for me to spoil here. And that's a good thing. Sensory overload can be fun. Go see The Last Jedi. I recommend sitting close.