One of the most famous quotes from the “Star Wars” saga must haunt the dreams of every director who signs on to make one of these continuing stories. “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The “Star Wars” films aren’t simply a night out at the movies, they are part of the fabric of many people’s lives. Some take it VERY seriously. On a 2001 census 21,000 Canadians put down their religion as Jedi Knight. That is serious fandom.
Finding a balance between the nostalgia many aficionados hold for the iconic series and moving it forward in an entertaining and organic way is a juggling act, one that director Rian Johnson has pulled off in “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.”
Tried he did. Fail he did not.
Johnson, who has already been hired to pilot a new three-film “Star Wars” franchise, pushes the characters and the story into new territory while maintaining the gist of George Lucas’s vision.
Beginning immediately after the events of “The Force Awakens,” Force-sensitive Resistance fighter Rey (Daisy Ridley) is in the most “unknowable place in the galaxy,” the planet Ahch-To, home to the exiled Jedi Master (and Mister Miyagi stand in) Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). As she tries to convince him to train her in the ways of the Jedi, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and her Resistance do battle with the First Order, lead by the evil Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his minions, General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Vader-wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Like the other films “The Last Jedi” is basically a tale of good versus evil. Snoke wants control of the galaxy while the Resistance is exposed and fighting back. It’s an echo of the original story but our real world has become a more complicated place since the first movie hit theatres and this movie reflects that. There have always been grey areas and nuance in the portrayal of heroes and villains in the franchise but here Kylo wrestles with primal urges. His leader Snokes, eggs him on—“Kylo you are no Vader,” he taunts. “You are just a child in a mask.”—as he battles with the yin and yang of his personality. That to and fro gives Driver the latitude to surprise the audience in ways (NO SPOILERS HERE!) that may shock even the most hardened fans.
Johnson has not simply remade “Empire Strikes Back,” he’s made a film that bristles with energy and invention. With one eye on the past and one to the future “The Last Jedi” finds a winning mix of humour and humanity, of old and new and good and evil.
When the talk of resistance and legacy of the Jedi threatens to weigh things down Johnson counters with some comic relief. It’s a treat to see Carrie Fisher in her last turn as Leia—the film is dedicated to her: “In loving memory of our Princess Carrie Fisher”—and Hamill with light sabre in hand but it’s the spirit of the thing that will please audiences. Although a tad long, “The Last Jedi” is a giddy, gripping good time.