In March 1997, yours truly saw his first ‘Star Wars’ movie: ‘Star Wars’, or ‘A New Hope’, in its Special Edition. Reviews were favorable at the time, newbies were intrigued, and old fans were excited to see one of their beloved cinematic treasures on the big screen once more. This is not the place nor the time to discuss the value of the (now questionable) additions. Twelve year old me knew nothing about The Force, Jedi, lightsabers and the like, but that didn’t matter. ‘Star Wars’ proved to be an excellent movie, and remains my favorite of the saga.
Between the ages of 12-18, I was a massive ‘Star Wars’ fan that ate up the franchise. When my parents visited New York City in 1998, my wish list was filled with obscure action figures that were unavailable in Belgian stores. My love cooled with the release of ‘Attack of the Clones’ and ‘Revenge of the Sith’. It’s easy to diss the films, and I will never use profanities to describe them, but they could have been so much more. ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘Rogue One’, however, were pleasant surprises, that showed there was still a lot of creative juice left in that galaxy far, far away.
‘The Last Jedi’, in cinemas nationwide, builds on the foundation laid by ‘The Force Awakens’ and ups the ante in more ways that one. Director Rian Johnson takes daring risks, permanently changes the status quo (there are at least three straight ‘what the force did I just see?’ moments in the course of its runtime), delves deeper into the rich and deep Jedi mythology without offering all the answers, allows characters to have beautiful arcs, and makes the most of the infinite resources given by Lucasfilm. There are moments of absolute silence to maximize the impact, and gorgeous images of stilted, pure beauty that demand to be framed. John Williams returns to form after the predecessor’s lifeless, pedantic score. The cast is all-around excellent, with major kudos to Mark Hamill (has he even been better?) and especially Carrie Fisher. Leia was underdeveloped and even a little by-the-numbers, ‘just here for the ride’ in ‘The Force Awakens’, but the character is layered, well-rounded and effective in ‘The Last Jedi’. As a viewer, it’s easy to get teary-eyed seeing Carrie Fisher so alive and vibrant, knowing that she passed away a few months after filming wrapped. The tribute in the end credits – while expected – is well-earned, and bound to bring a lump to many a fan’s throat. Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher’s defining role, and the actress leaves the stage on a high note.
‘The Last Jedi’ is proof that cinematic concepts made by a committee in an effort to sell millions of toys don’t necessary translate into bad films. Rian Johnson has been allowed to create a thrilling, bold, imaginative, funny, and touching ‘Star Wars’ film for the ages, and – because of its boldness – one that will be as divisive as ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ once was in 1980 (before garnering near-universal acclaim). To me, it’s also the best ‘Star Wars’ film since said first sequel 37-years ago. ‘The Last Jedi’ is a masterpiece, and a wonderful film to treasure.