The first thing to really notice about The Last Jedi is that it sets quite a bit up within the first ten minutes. Then it decides to go further. What the trailers showed us and what we see in the film is different, though many suspected that it might be. Narrative structures teased in the trailers go to unexpected places, and there are plenty of unexpected things within the film.
The characters here continue from where they left off in Force Awakens, with Poe immediately being back in an X-Wing blowing things up. That trait gets focus here, and some development in his understanding of the larger plan of war happens. BB-8 is again a standout droid, giving some great character and getting into some action of his own. Leia doesn’t get a whole lot of focus, but has two standout scenes that make Carrie Fisher’s last appearance in a Star Wars film worth her inclusion. Finn and new player Rose team up on a mission, and each is given focus as a character and their new and growing relationship gets focus. Finn also again is questioning his purpose. On Ahch-To, Rey comes to grips with the Force, and has her work cut out in connecting with Luke. The story hinted at in Force Awakens regarding Luke and Kylo Ren gets its focus here, and depending on how you see Luke’s character at the end of Return of the Jedi, this character thread will either please or infuriate. Some will see it as natural progression. Some will see it as needless regression. I’m in the former of the two, since it only makes sense for Luke to react the way he does in the situation he found himself in. I’m saying no more on that.
Kylo Ren comes out even more conflicted than before, quite possibly, at the end of this film. At the end of Force Awakens he was bested by Rey, a person of no significance and untrained in the Force. Here, not only does he have the task of taking out the Resistance, he has Snoke calling him out for his weaknesses. We’ve heard in the trailers his line about putting the past behind you to allow you to move forward, but despite the fact he keeps telling himself he has, it’s clear that he certainly hasn’t, especially at the climax of the film. Phasma is again getting the short end of the stick here. The trailers show her in battle with Finn, but that’s all we really get from her. New guy DJ is an interesting character, and makes Finn think on his actions.
Away from characters, the planets themselves look great. We see more of Ahch-To, and get introduced to the Porgs that inhabit the planet. Canto Bight is certainly a great looking world, giving an upper-class society outside of any particular faction but profiting from both sides to keep the lives they lead. And Crait is a world we see little of, but still gives a sense of wonder. The set pieces we see happen on these worlds fit the places they are, and even the vastness of space gets a great opening action sequence. The musical cues here are perfectly tuned to the scenes they are a part of, and one particular set piece makes use of very little sound to pull off an impactful scene. Some familiar things will set off nostalgic feelings, such as original trilogy music pieces, and such things are used for impact within the action or plot. The entire basis of the film could be seen as Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fused together, mixed around, entire elements changed up and new plot points added, to create something both familiar and new to a much better standard than what Force Awakens achieved. All plot points pay off, and just like Empire Strikes Back, the film ends with the good guys beaten back but not deterred in their overall goal. And despite this being the longest Star Wars film to date, everything feels well-paced and interest doesn’t get lost at any point.
This is probably too early to say, but at the minute the reviews are saying this is the best Star Wars film to date, and after the first watch – I’d agree with them. Nothing feels out of place and everything has a reason. As such, for Star Wars fans, it is an easy recommendation, as it is to anyone else who enjoys a good sci-fi/fantasy epic. However, since The Last Jedi continues straight off from where Force Awakens left us, Episode 7 is a must watch to understand several of the points raised in this one. And I’m pretty certain that Episode 9 will pick up where this one left off, so it will feel like one continuous story once the trilogy is complete. What Episode 9 chooses to showcase is anyone’s guess at the minute. One thing for certain though, is that there will be a duel of the fates to finish this trilogy off.