This is absolutely not spoiler free.
When we left the galaxy far, far away back in 2015, the Force was a vintage religion that no one believed anymore. That is, no one except for General Leia (Carrie Fisher). Her brother, Luke (Mark Hamill), vanished along with the hope for a new generation of Jedi. This mythical energy was supposed to bring balance to the galaxy (by snuffing out the dark with the light), but without the Force the good guys have nothing to lean on except for countless fighter jets and secret bases. Nevertheless, if General Princess Leia Space Mom insists that the Force is the missing link to peace, then restoring the faith is a top priority for her army of rebels. Leia sends Rey (Daisy Ridley) off in search of Luke, the last Jedi, where she finds him at the end of The Force Awakens, waiting for us on the edge of a cliff hanger.
Luke takes Rey’s weaponized peace offering, a symbol of the past that made him a legend, and throws it off an Irish cliff. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a story split between Rey trying to shake up the routine of a crotchety old man in self-exile, and the story of the rebel fleet escaping the First Order in a Fury Road space chase. Luke is convinced that the Force should die for everyone’s benefit; its time has come and gone like a Betamax. But Rey thinks otherwise. She is so connected to this mysterious energy that she sits ignored on Luke’s island and uses the Force like a Skype link. She’s hungry for a teacher and her only options are the hooded hermit who hates everything and everyone or the conflicted enemy, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who answers when the Force Skype rings. At the other end of the galaxy, Poe (Oscar Isaac) is a reckless headliner with a thirst for action and a love of explosions. He’s swept up with the rebels in a desperate attempt to escape the First Order who tail our heroes like a single bee at a backyard potluck. The Order has learned how to track through light speed which means the rebels are getting tired and fuel is running low. Poe runs around the ship demanding answers while Finn (John Boyega) and newcomer, Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), take a side trip to find help. It’s an endurance-filled week (or so) for the First Order and the rebels while Rey spends many a cold, stony night asleep at Luke’s doorstep talking to her imaginary boyfrienemy.
Let’s start with Luke’s island adventure. The bright-eyed Skywalker has aged into a stick in the mud. He’s the kind of old man who grumbles about putting on pants for company. Even with this unrecognizable Luke, it is so good to have Mark Hamill back. He’s the uncle who shows up on Boxing Day and wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Hamill dives back into the role with all the resentment that 30 years on a rock and life shattering regret can brew. To balance out Luke’s shadowy bitterness, his island home is the windy habitat to adorable alien puffins (available at Walmart), cliff cows I’m undecided about, frog priests who can’t catch a break, and dark, whispering holes filled with mind mirrors and bad decisions. It’s not the most hospitable place, but it suits a grumpy hermit whose goal in life is to die alone.
Rey tries to be a model student, but it’s awfully hard when the teacher can’t spare her a minute. So, Rey does what any millennial would do: reach out to strangers on the internet – or, Force net. Rey and Kylo Ren build a unique bond in The Last Jedi. Since their connection is telepathic there is no risk that one will backhand the other with a lightsaber. Their honest conversations become welcome breaks from the loneliness. Rey and Kylo ask questions about their pasts, trying to colour in the motives and secretly manipulate the other’s future. It’s very intriguing to watch. Rey, the desperate student, is essentially reaching out to Baby Snape for occlumency lessons. Anyway, when the two finally have their face-to-face meeting, I completely lost track of time. Rey and Kylo’s standoff on either side of Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) is thrilling. The Last Jedi, being the first sequel of the new series – whatever, it’s number two-equivalent, why fight it – is in the same position as The Emperor Strikes Back to wow and shock. You have to expect at least one special turn. But what’s it going to be? One parry announces another and I was mesmerized.
Meanwhile Leia, Poe, and every other egg in the rebel basket is leading a fuel-efficient space crawl across the galaxy. With the untimely death of our beloved Carrie Fisher in 2016, I half-expected Leia to meet her end at every corner. It has to happen, but when and how? Will she get hit by that laser or be sucked out that window? The anticipation was horribly stressful and I was fooled repeatedly.
The space chase has its ups and downs but is mostly linear. Still, it concludes with a kickass trench battle on a red salt planet. The rebels hold off against a line of mechanical elephants and a battering cannon in a Star Wars version of The Return of the King. The effects here and throughout The Last Jedi are seamless and artistic. The sound mixing (a random thing to comment on but bear with me) is also top notch. I could feel the bombs hitting the ship and the vibrations in Kylo’s unstable lightsaber because the sounds and the effects matched perfectly. The Last Jedi does everything it can to bring you right into the movie save from handing you an actual lightsaber and a bathrobe.
The Last Jedi is a win. It’s an enjoyable battle of endurance between one ship and a bigger ship, as well as an emotional, religious, and generational struggle at the edge of nowhere. The Last Jedi rewards our patience with a few partial answers to burning questions, but I mostly felt satisfied by the push between Rey, Kylo, and the Force. The Last Jedi deviates from the traditional tracks of a sequel and adds a significant amount of comedy to keep us jumping from light to suspensefully dark. The Last Jedi lines up the “final” Star Wars Episode IX with hopeful anticipation. It’s no Empire Strikes Back, but it’s a satisfying 8/10.