Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Which is better?

My 11-year-old daughter came out of the movie theater after seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and said, “Okay, Mo question.” A “Mo question” consists of my daughter, known around the house as Mo, asking a question about preferences.

The Last Jedi does exactly what the middle, transitory movie in a trilogy should do: keep the audience on edge.

“What did you like better?” she asked. “The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi?” Mo questions always seem easy, but I usually deliberate for a while. They’re difficult enough that she rarely has an answer to her own questions.

“Well, maybe it’s because I just saw it,” I answered, “but I say The Last Jedi.”

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens aptly carried on the franchise’s tradition by masterfully integrating new characters with old standbys, the movie stuck to a formula and didn’t take too many chances. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, does exactly what the middle, transitory movie in a trilogy should do: keep the audience on edge, leading viewers to believe that anything can happen and that any narrative path is in play. Heroes can sow doubt, villains can bring hope, and the good guys’ destiny hangs in the balance.

The Force Awakens served as a rehashing—albeit a highly entertaining one—of the original 1977 Star Wars movie. Director Rian Johnson takes a risk by veering off the trodden Jedi path, and does not simply remake The Empire Strikes Back. New hero Rey (Daisy Ridley), who discovered her own Jedi powers in The Force Awakens, travels to a hidden island to find Jedi legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). She tries to convince him to rejoin the Resistance in its battle against the evil First Order. Rey also hopes that Skywalker can teach her the ways of the Force, like he learned from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda years ago.

Skywalker, however, has no interest in reliving the Jedi’s golden years. Once the young optimist, Skywalker shows reluctance to help Rey, and resigns himself to a life without the Jedi. He had taught young Jedi in the past, including Ben Solo (Adam Driver), son of Han Solo and Princess Leia. Young Solo instead followed a path to the dark side, becoming Kylo Ren, one of the First Order’s most powerful leaders. Skywalker blames himself for Ben Solo’s turn. Skywalker sees the same potential in Rey, which frightens him out of committing to training her. His indecision and rejections of Rey cause her to doubt her place in the new Jedi universe.

The most interesting scenes in the new installment involve Rey and Kylo Ren using their powers to engage each other in conversation even though they are planets away from each other for most of the movie. While they stand on different sides, they are bonded by their individual—and collective—powers. They contemplate their futures, with each of them trying to recruit the other.

All the major characters in the movie also face decisions that could affect their fate, or their planet’s fate. By the last half hour of the movie, the audience isn’t sure which way the characters will turn.

In addition to Force Awakens characters Rey, Kylo, Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), and reformed stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega), The Last Jedi also introduces a strong new character in Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), also of the Resistance, who mourns the loss of her sister at the hands of the First Order. Despite the on-screen death of Han Solo in the last movie, and the real-life death of Carrie Fisher (Leia), the new characters are capable of propelling the franchise forward.

The Last Jedi will not convert any Star Wars haters into fans. And people who swear off anything but the original trilogy probably will not gravitate to the new movie either. Longtime fans who enjoyed the Force Awakens, however, will find the The Last Jedi an excellent continuation of the Star Wars narrative, one that unpredictably moves the story along to the final installment of the current trilogy.

So, the answer to the Mo question is that the new movie is the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, and is more complex and interesting than the Force Awakens. That’s my answer. My 13-year-old daughter concurred. Even Mo, who rarely answers her own questions, agreed.

3.5 out of 4 stars. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.