Hey there Dreamers,
I want to introduce a guest writer for this very important movie review. Katie Kawa is the creator of Nerdy Girl Notes and a Disney aficionado in her own right, having visited the parks more than 20 times in her life. Star Wars is extraordinarily important to her, and we are lucky to have her share her thoughts and a review with us!
By: Katie Kawa
After two years of waiting, coming up with theories, and either trying to find every spoiler or avoid them like the plague, Star Wars: The Last Jedi finally arrived in theaters this week, and Luke Skywalker said it best: “This is not going to go the way you think.” With surprises around every corner that play with everything you think you know about this story, The Last Jedi is a thrilling ride through a galaxy far, far away. It keeps you on the edge of your seat with a fresh new voice and vision while still reminding you of what it felt like to be a little kid discovering the story of Luke Skywalker for the first time.
Because I firmly believe that this movie should be experienced without knowing any spoilers, you won’t find any in this review. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on the latest chapter in the Star Wars saga!
The Last Jedi begins—as all Star Wars movies do—in the middle of the action. In this case, the Resistance, still led by Princess-turned-General Leia Organa (the late, great Carrie Fisher) is being chased through the galaxy by the First Order, still led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke (the master of motion-capture performances, Andy Serkis). With their backs up against the wall, help arrives in the form of Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern), who clashes almost immediately with the talented but impulsive Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).
Wary of Holdo’s measured approach to dealing with the First Order, Poe works with former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance engineer Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) on their own plan to deal with the enemy. This plan sends Finn and Rose on their own adventure to the casino city of Canto Bight before an inevitable showdown with Finn’s nemesis, Stormtrooper commander Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie).
While the Resistance struggles to stay strong, Rey (Daisy Ridley) believes she can inject some hope into their fight in the form of long-lost Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Rey lands on the planet of Ahch-To—home to the first Jedi Temple—with the goal of convincing Luke to return to his sister Leia and the rest of the Resistance, but she’s seeking something else, too: a teacher in the ways of the Force. Instead of a willing teacher, though, she finds a jaded man who wants no part in the ways of the Jedi after watching his nephew, Ben Solo, fall to the Dark Side and become the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
As Rey begins to deepen her understanding of the Force and what can be done through it, her quest for answers about her identity evolves. And as she learns more about Luke and Kylo Ren, she finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about legends, monsters, and her place in the story unfolding around her.
The Last Jedi is a surprising film, and in an age where spoilers are everywhere and fan theories are shared constantly, that’s quite a feat. But what’s so special about this film is that it’s not surprising just in the way that a big twist or reveal is surprising—though the movie does have some of those, and when they happen, they’re executed brilliantly—it’s surprising in so many smaller moments, too. This movie delights in zigging when you think it’s going to zag, in having its characters challenge each other’s expectations as well as those of the audience. I’m not sure there was a span of more than 10 minutes in this movie that passed without me being genuinely surprised by something that happened, and it made for one of the most exciting movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time.
(It’s also good to know that if you find yourself spoiled about one moment or twist, you still have a good chance of walking away sincerely shocked by plenty of other scenes.)
In some cases, movies that provide surprise after surprise the way this one does do so by having their characters act in ways that don’t make sense. That’s not the case in The Last Jedi. Of course, there are moments that cause the audience to question things we thought we knew about beloved (and love-to-hate) characters, but they ultimately deepen our understanding of who these people are. And when it comes down to it, that’s exactly who they are—people (or aliens in some cases…but you get what I mean). Writer/director Rian Johnson did a masterful job of making these characters feel powerfully, poignantly human. They have real flaws, they have surprising moments of strength, they’re allowed to fail and learn from those failures, and even characters we’ve known for 40 years are given new layers as they continue to grow.
One of the best things about The Force Awakens—the film that immediately precedes The Last Jedi—was the way it made its three new heroes (Finn, Poe, and Rey) so instantly likable, creating iconic additions to the Star Wars universe right away. In The Last Jedi, Johnson manages to do the same with the two new main characters he introduces: Rose and Holdo. Both are such clearly-defined characters that it seems they’ve been part of this universe forever. Making excellent use of Tran’s natural enthusiasm and charm, Rose exudes a kind of everywoman warmth that this saga has never had before, and Dern’s Holdo went from a character I cared nothing about during the lead-up to the film to one I now want to be for Halloween because I love her so much.
It’s also worth noting that both of these characters represent an important part of this film: It’s filled with incredible women. From Leia and Rey to Rose and Holdo, no two women in this film are alike, and that’s so important. They represent different ways for women to be strong, and they each have their own story to tell. And when those stories intersect—especially in one poignant moment between Holdo and Leia played with perfect emotion by Dern and Fisher—they carry an emotional weight that’s about so much more than just what’s happening onscreen.
Powerful, memorable performances propel this film from the very start. Isaac continues to ooze charisma and prove he can have chemistry with every member of this cast. Boyega’s conflicted Finn radiates sincerity that pairs perfectly with Tran’s Rose. And no review of this film would be complete without mentioning Fisher, who, in many ways, is the beating heart of the story. Leia’s steadfast belief in her cause and in the people around her is a grounding force that connects so many of these characters and reminds us that this saga has always been about hope.
While all of these actors turn in great performances, this movie really belongs to Ridley, Driver, and Hamill. As an older, colder Luke Skywalker, Hamill does his best dramatic work in the entire series. He found his perfect scene partner in Ridley—who balances his haunted, reserved performance with a beautiful sense of vulnerability. And Driver did what I thought was the impossible going into the film: He made me care about Kylo Ren. Or should I say, he made me care about Ben Solo, the lonely and lost young man Driver lets us see only in fleeting glimpses. Driver makes the conflict between the desire for darkness that defines Kylo Ren and the pull to the light that brings out Ben Solo feel painfully palpable.
Those three actors and the characters they play make up the most interesting parts of the film. They seem to be in their own intimate psychological drama that just happens to be in space, which sometimes makes it jarring when they cut to another storyline—especially to Finn and Rose on Canto Bight. However, even that sequence—which probably went on a few minutes (and one extended chase) longer than it needed to—was necessary for the overall plot and themes Johnson was crafting.
The Force was certainly with Johnson as a filmmaker. The Last Jedi is an inspired piece of art, featuring some of the most stunning visuals in any Star Wars film. From one of the coolest fight scenes in the series to a battle on a planet where every move leaves behind a streak of red in the salt, the creativity on display in this film was a sight to behold. And some images will surely go down in Star Wars history for their overwhelming emotional power.
The Last Jedi isn’t just a great Star Wars movie; it’s a great movie. It’s a story about the pain we carry with us, the hope we try to hold on to, and the choices we make. In telling this story in such an unexpected way, Johnson created one of the most human, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful chapters in the Star Wars saga.