‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’: A bold new direction to one of cinema’s greatest stories

As writer and director, Johnson attempts something in “The Last Jedi” that both J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards were afraid to do: he tries something new and original. (Screenshot via YouTube)

It’s no secret that Rian Johnson’s latest entry into the “Star Wars” franchise was met with intense division among audiences. While the film garnered critical praise, many in the fan community were not so taken with it. Fans complained that it strayed too far from their expectations and felt foreign from what we already knew, or thought we knew, about the galaxy far, far away.  Those aspects of the film are not issues. Rather, they are the reasons that this film is so great.

As writer and director, Johnson attempts something in “The Last Jedi” that both J.J. Abrams and Gareth Edwards were afraid to do: he tries something new and original. Throughout the film, Johnson uses callbacks to the original trilogy, but subverts our expectations by taking the characters and story in a direction that we haven’t seen before. As many have already pointed out, Johnson has little interest in appeasing the fandom. He has his own story to tell and doesn’t pull any punches with it.

This review will discuss spoilers.

Of the entire saga, “The Last Jedi” probably contains the most powerful messages, tackling issues like loss, moral ambiguity in war, organized religion, human weakness, hubris and failure. Accepting failure is one of the most important lessons this movie has to offer. In the film’s best scene, Master Yoda appears to Luke and consoles him on his past failings, telling him, “Failure, the best teacher is.” Characters constantly fail in this movie, be it Finn and Rose’s attempt to hack into Snoke’s ship or Rey’s attempt to bring Kylo back from the Dark Side. Even the rebellion suffers horrible loss, reaching their lowest point. Still, Johnson also teaches us that we must have hope, particularly hope in our own ability to do what is right. Despite the hardships that befall the characters, they survive with a glimmer of hope to fight another day.

Johnson also illustrates a wonderful message on the power of the individual through his reveal that Rey’s parents were nobodies. While many fans are up in arms that she isn’t a Skywalker or a Kenobi, they are missing the point. What Johnson is telling us is that it doesn’t matter who your parents are; talent and strength can come from anyone if they are willing to believe in themselves.

Regardless of whether or not J.J. Abrams had intended this to be the reveal, this is far more meaningful than any other direction the story could have taken. The final shot of the young boy on Canto Bight, a storyline which apparently only I enjoyed (disclaimer: my parents both work in a casino), reinforces this point by showing that other people who society dismisses as nobodies will be the leaders of the future.

The richest portion of the story occurs between Luke and Rey on Ahch-To. When we find Luke, he is cynical and disillusioned with the Jedi Order. He believes that their unrealistic standards and hero-worship are what failed the galaxy (providing a compelling spin on the prequels) and caused him to fail his nephew, Ben Solo (now Kylo Ren). Luke explains the Jedi were consumed with pride, causing them to lose sight of the true meaning of the Force as it exists in every living thing. Luke is convinced that the Jedi must die, along with all of their temples and dogma, which is why he has placed himself in self-exile in the far reaches of the galaxy.

Rey is able to teach Luke another great lesson of the film. Luke, just like Kylo Ren, believes that the past must die in order to make way for a new order. Rey, on the other hand, believes that we must not rewrite the past, but create change. Instead of destroying the Jedi’s history, she can learn from their mistakes. Where Kylo Ren fails is in trying to destroy those who failed him instead of confronting them and learning from them.

Just to touch on a few last points, the acting from the whole cast is excellent, especially from Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. The level of humor has also been turned up significantly, providing many memorable moments like Poe’s call with General Hux, the tiny alien who thinks BB-8 is a slot machine and Rey’s misinterpretation of “reach out.” Just as this movie is funnier than the last entry, it is also far grimmer, taking the story in a dark new direction.

Johnson also follows J.J. Abram’s example, using practical effects as often as possible, even bringing back the iconic puppet variant of Yoda from the original trilogy in what is, as I said before, the most awesome scene in the movie. The cinematography is another highlight, providing beautiful, jaw-dropping visuals in both the imagined and real-life locations.

If it wasn’t already obvious, I loved this movie. It is one of the best movies of last year, providing both a fun blockbuster experience as well as a thought-provoking character piece that advances an already iconic story in an interesting new direction. I can’t wait to see where the characters go from here and what Rian Johnson does with his newly-announced trilogy. This is a fantastic cinematic experience and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Rating: 5/5 Stars


Evan Burns is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.