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Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
The Star Wars franchise has been about innovation from the very beginning. Technological innovation like lightsaber rotoscoping and blue screen use in the original trilogy, to computer animation and a complete digital filming-to-screen pipeline started in the prequels.
Not just technical innovation though, but story-wise as well. While resting on basic universal concepts of good vs. evil, family conflict, religion, political intrigue, culture and history, and while delivering it through an amalgam of all major genres such as adventure, romance, horror, comedy and of course drama, the stories continued to deliver the unexpected.
It's taken for granted now, but who would have ever guessed that the antagonist was the protagonist's father, that who seemed to be the series' main villain was really on a leash, and had a heart after all? In the prequels, even though we knew where it would end (Anakin becoming Vader), who would have ever guessed that the troopers from the Clone Wars actually worked alongside the Jedi and not fought against them, that the cackling old Emperor from Return of the Jedi could actually be quite charming, that he defeated the Republic not by an outright attack but by weakening it from within and transforming it, and that, yes, Vader himself was once a cute child as we all were?
Now, the sequel trilogy. While 2015's Episode VII: The Force Awakens was highly entertaining, had likeable characters and laid the seeds of the sequel trilogy, it fell short of what a George Lucas-helmed production would have been, and in my opinion the weakest areas of the film were those where it reveled in sentimentality, as if the writer/director forgot that he was making a movie and started reliving growing up in the '70s & '80s through rose-colored glasses, which only served to distract from the fictional universe which should be invested in to be convincing. Add to that that The Force Awakens went a little too far in the effort to incorporate so-called practical effects and other outdated methods as if there's something intrinsically noble about this, and the definition of what makes a Star Wars movie a Star Wars movie begins to narrow considerably, the exact opposite of the original intent.
Now, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I'm happy to say it screeches to a halt and makes a u-turn. Scratch that. It goes off road. Green screens are utilized much more for fantastic imagery and settings. New computer generated creatures are introduced, including the comically adorable porgs and the beautiful ice foxes. More importantly, the plot twists are genuinely that, twists. Without revealing any spoilers I'll quote Luke's own line from the movie, "This is not going to go the way you think!" Despite still not knowing his backstory, Snoke is still an enjoyable villain seeing as he is both visually intimidating, even terrifying, yet too arrogant for his own good. Flashbacks are utilized for the first time, thrice for different perspectives. Outside of those brief flashbacks, traditional lightsaber duels are non-existent in this film. Fantastic new force-abilities are also demonstrated unexpectedly, including one at the end of the film that was jaw-droppingly perfect, both for the story and the character who was involved.
As for the overarching story theme, it's a necessary one, and one I've been expecting based on the way the saga's been going, but it's nice to see it finally be outright acknowledged and play out on screen. Namely: the theme of balance being brought to the force and its' relation to the Jedi order. A superficial viewing of Star Wars leads to the conclusion of: Jedi good guys, Sith bad guys. Jedi use the light side, Sith use the dark side. And that's true, generally speaking. However the prequels introduced audiences to gray areas never before known. The Jedi's faults were on full display. Despite being the 'good guys' and self proclaimed keepers of the peace, they became more and more involved in the government and eventually even became participants in the Clone Wars. They regulated the force to such a degree that they became known as a "religion", and amid their dogma were harmful practices like taking children from their parents to train them and forbidding love, familial attachment and marriage, rules which directly led Anakin on the path to becoming Darth Vader. The "Clone Wars" TV series expanded on their at times immoral role in the war, and also included a story arc of Anakin's apprentice, Ahsoka Tano, being unjustly excommunicated. The "Rebels" TV series featued a scene of Yoda regretting the Jedi's past actions and also showed different characters that used the light side of the force, but were not Jedi. Going back to the movies, in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Qui Gon Jinn was viewed as somewhat rogue and therefore not allowed to judge on the Jedi's own council, yet it was he who not only found the boy who would eventually defeat Darth Sidious, but also discovered the way to completely transfer and become one with the force at what normally would be the death of the body. In Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Mace Windu explicitly admits that the Jedi's ability to use the force has been greatly diminished, therefore enabling the dark side to rise right in their midst. Therefore it should be no real surprise when Luke delivers his big line, "It's time for the Jedi to end."
If The Force Awakens was a love letter to a limited perception of the originals, then The Last Jedi is built on the principles of the prequels, and really the whole saga. 5 stars out of 5